Empathy on the decline in America
Declared this day, April 26, 2019 a federally threatened concept: Kindness.
My father likes to spoil cashiers. It’s nothing creepy or stalky or flirty. He simply picks up a candy bar when he’s waiting in line, pays for it with his groceries, then hands it to the cashier and wishes them a good day. It is done as an act of kindness. My father always tried to teach us to carry kindness in our hearts for other people. (This is not to say we don’t have a temper at all, just that kindness is the goal and we strive very hard to treat all people, regardless of station, creed, color etc. with kindness.)
There is a new phrase currently being thrown around in online communities that gets my blood boiling. That phrase is–
sit all the way down
or “here’s your chair,” or “take a seat,” or other even uglier ways of saying it. It is a very dismissive and condescending way of telling the other individual that “my opinion just trumped yours and made you look stupid, so now you are to shut up and go away, you complete imbecile.” You can also insert all kinds of expletives in there as well.
Perhaps you have seen people saying this?
This phrase, I consider to be one of the most egregious things you can say to another human being. By saying this, you are telling that person that your opinion, your very existence, does not matter. YOU do not matter. You are invisible. Useless. Perhaps I am completely missing the mark on this colloquialism, but I don’t think so. I have never seen it used kindly or in a joking or sarcastic manner. It has always been in a bullying situation. (Bullying in America by adults is an entirely other and even longer blog article.)
I shop at a lovely grocery store in my community called Lowe’s Foods. I shop there for one reason: the people are always friendly. It has nothing to do with the pricing, the availability of the grocery items I am looking for, or the arrangement of goods on the shelves, it is the people.
When I cannot find an item and ask a clerk for assistance, someone walks with me to find what it is that I need, and they do it with a smile. When I am checking out, regardless of my mood or however complicated my number of coupons or number of payment methods, they are friendly and courteous and helpful. This is why I shop there. But kindness is in the job description, right? I don’t know that I have paid much attention as to whether the customers there are following the same manuscript.
I frequent writers’ groups online. I encounter droves of the most friendly, helpful, supportive people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. But all of these people are working toward a common goal of learning and self-promotion. There is an undercurrent of purpose to their kindness which is not to say it isn’t sincere, only to say that there is a community of a common goal. Without this mask of commonality, would kindness prevail? Remove this and what is left? Visit, Twitter, Facebook, or your local Walmart, where there is no common thread and see what kindnesses you encounter, and I am sure you will have a very different experience.
Recently I went with my family members to a hospital in Charlotte. My grandbaby girl had a doctor’s appointment. Myself, my adult sons, my teenage daughter, my boyfriend, my toddler grandson, my daughter-in-law, and my grandbaby daughter were all getting into an elevator when a woman and her two adult sons were standing outside of the elevator causing quite a scene. The woman was cursing very loudly while the two young men stood there looking forlorn and extremely embarrassed. She was very angry at the doctors for some reason and was cursing violently.
My three-year-old grandson said something about the screaming and yelling. I had his hand. As the elevator doors were closing, I said to him “No, honey we don’t act like that.” Meaning, no, we don’t yell and cuss. I was merely trying to tell him not to yell and cuss. I didn’t mean for anyone to hear me but him, but clearly, I didn’t speak quietly enough.
The irate woman assumed that I was speaking to her and turned her screaming toward me, charging the elevator doors, thankfully too late to enter the elevator with us. She assumed that my being white meant that we “white people” don’t act like her being “black” and as the doors to the elevator closed, I stood there stunned with my heart racing, clutching my terrified grandson’s hand. I knew instantly I had made a terrible mistake.
We rode the elevator down to the floor that would take us near the parking deck and when they opened, the woman was coming out from somewhere. She had followed us. The two young men followed along some distance behind, not saying a word and staring at the ground. We couldn’t find our car in all of the confusion as we tried to get away from the screaming woman, now threatening to throw our grandkids into the road and watch them get run over by a car. We went back into the hospital and called for security. Our grandson was yelling back at her to stop yelling. He began to cry.
We were terrified.
I don’t know why people are so angry. Or why we have lost the ability to just be kind to each other. Just see each other as human beings. We are all here with the same love in our hearts for life and family, hopes and dreams, visions for what our life could be, struggles and bills, health concerns, losses, moments of laughter. We all look in the mirror and analyze the way our hair sticks up or how the arch of our brow looks weird on one side or whether or not our hair looks grayer today or whether or not we look like our Uncle Ray. We all think about death and traffic. We all get hungry. And we ALL need kindness.
I have grave concern for our country right now for the current administration and the paradigm shift toward disrespect, intolerance, hatred, acts of violence, and deceit which is genuinely disturbing. This psychological trickle-down effect has been morally devastating to our country and all it takes is one quick scroll through Facebook to see the cesspool of humanity.
According to the Compassionate Action network, compassion is defined by emotion researchers as the feeling that arises when one is confronted by the suffering of another individual and is compelled to do something to relieve that other person’s suffering. This is a normal human response. My question is, what is happening in today’s society to block this normal human response? Or better asked, what is happening to discourage this human response? Have we gotten so self-absorbed as a society as to elevate our own needs and pre-thought notions, especially those of time and judgement: “I am in a hurry. I need to get home and start dinner. I want to watch this TV show or read this article. Can’t this person just shut up? You know they are wrong for wearing that. Ugh, I hate people like that.”—so much so that we can no longer be bothered with the needs of others?
“When we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
—Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
In an article on The Science of Compassion, the Compassionate Action Network discussed how kindness and compassion can improve our lives. It can reduce the risk of heart disease by boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, helping to slow our heart rate. It can help people become more resilient to stress, strengthen the immune response, make people more socially adept thereby reducing the negative health effects of loneliness.
“If you haven’t any charity in your heart, you
have the worst kind of heart trouble.”
That “feel good” feeling you get when you are kind to someone has a biological component. This is due to the release of endogenous opioids, causing elevated levels of dopamine in the brain. This gives us what some call a “helper’s high.” The emotional warmth we feel is due to oxytocin releasing nitric oxide causing a reduction in blood pressure. There is even research suggesting that kindness helps to slow aging and to reduce inflammation.
Those are all great arguments as to why we should be kind and how it would help –ourselves. But shouldn’t we take some time to consider how we’ve been treating the people we come in contact with on a daily basis, and how we might improve that–for them? Not based on the merit of those interactions, or the perceived worth of the receiving individual, or whether or not you stand on the same side of the political fence or church steeple or bank parking lot as that person, but just for the purpose of serving our community? Bettering the community we live in and lifting others around us even with small doses of positivity?
We are currently being conditioned by “the administration,” by the media, by social media, and by each other to seek out every difference we can find, to pick apart those differences, and to then use those differentiation as reasons to alienate, shun, and abuse each other.
I say we are better than this.
It’s time we incorporate some #Kindness in our lives, regardless of whether we agree with the other person, whether we like their skin or not, whether we live in the same kind of home or not—because we are all humans tied with the same kind of humanity to the same earth.
We ALL deserve the dignity of human kindness.
The Compassionate Action Network gave some great advice on their website (https://www.compassionateactionnetwork.org/science-of-compassion) on how to incorporate compassion into our daily lives, based on research by Stanford and Emory Universities:
- Find similarities: Seeing yourself as similar to others increases feelings of compassion. One recent study shows that simply tapping your fingers to the same rhythm as a stranger increases compassionate behavior.
- See people as individuals rather than abstractions: When asked to support an anti-hunger charity, people were more likely to give money after reading a story about one particular starving girl than after reading statistics on starvation.
- Believe in your power to do good: When we believe we’re able to make a difference, we’re less likely to suppress our feelings of compassion.
- Notice how good compassion feels: Studies show that compassion and compassionate action activate the brain’s reward center.
- For parents, teachers, and caregivers: Research suggests that compassion is contagious, so if you want to help teach and cultivate compassion in children, the best practice is to lead by your own example.
Today when you inter-mingle in your town, at work, in your family, and online, how about a little more than the half-hearted hello? How about holding the door, offering to help someone with their groceries, help someone who is having a difficult time getting out of their chair?
Maybe you can find something nice to say to someone who you normally wouldn’t even consider speaking to? Try finding common ground with people who you don’t normally associate with, looking up from your phone long enough to engage in a polite conversation, giving extra time to consider the opinions of others while reserving judgement, setting aside differences and deciding that it is ok to disagree and still both be deserving of respect and dignity?
How about treating each other with a little extra dose of kindness today? How about just smiling at someone who looks like they might just need a smile and a little acknowledgement?
I leave you with the thoughts of one of the kindest souls to ever walk this beautiful earth:
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa
Thank you loyal reader–and I know it is extremely unprofessional to leave calls to action, but in the effort of expressing kindness, will you leave a little for me in the form of a comment, so that I may do the same for you? I would like to get to know you as a person. Tell me something about yourself! Have a wonderful day and I hope that you find many things in this day that bring you genuine smiles.