Tag: empathy

Barack Obama and his family at his election victory speech Nov. 4, 2008, in Chicago’s Grant Park. We are not the nation I thought we were becoming as I watched that night. (Everett Collection via Shutterstock)

Donald Trump is like a guy who takes a dump on half the yards in the neighborhood, somehow gets elected neighborhood association president, and then says it’s time for everyone to unite behind him.

Trump crapped on immigrants. He crapped on women. He crapped on President Obama. He crapped on you, even if you don’t think so. He crapped on America. He crapped on the world.

He denied, then bragged, then denied some more, despite proof. And yet, he won, because half of those in the neighborhood who didn’t get this treatment loved him. Now, he and his inner circle have urged the rest of the neighbors to come together, to heal and move forward — and without apologizing to any of them. Really? Forgive and forget? No way. The arrogance of expecting the people he dumped on to meet him all the way, not just halfway, would be mind-boggling if it were anyone else. But he has flung so much poo in getting the best of the party that owes its current existence to poo-flinging, we are well beyond what we once considered normal.

I have watched every U.S. presidential inauguration since Nixon’s second. That streak ends Friday. Call it a boycott if you’d like, although almost no one will notice. But in a still-defining-itself #notmypresident form of personal protest, I am doing my small part to refuse to normalize and legitimize Trump’s presidency.

Yes, I have read pieces — most of them by people seemingly lacking self-awareness regarding the blind spots inherent in their privilege — deriding the substance of, and the hashtag within — the previous paragraph. Many such pieces popped up amid post-election demonstrations across the country and the anti-Trump backlash on social media. A main point is, “Not your president? How’s that supposed to work?” My answer today: That’s for me to figure out. You can treat as normal and legitimate the people and events of your choosing.

As it turns out, I have plenty of company in some or much of my thinking. Dana Milbank and I have similar opinions on the Trump team’s angry call for respect. On the question of the legitimacy of Trump’s ascendancy, Paul Krugman and I (and Rep. John Lewis) largely agree. For a far more eloquent expression than I am capable of writing, I recommend Adam Gopnik’s The Music Donald Trump Can’t Hear as a foundation for what’s to follow below.

Despite Trump’s insistence that he “will be president for all Americans,” there is no evidence that he is even remotely interested in proving it, in reassuring marginalized people that he is a man of his word. In fact, he has been known for decades as a selfish opportunist who is decidedly not a man of his word. As someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being a white male from birth, I consider it my responsibility to speak — for myself and for those who are now more vulnerable — about why I will not acknowledge his inauguration Friday.

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feelingsPhoto by Lopolo

About a week ago, a friend and I were talking about feelings, and how difficult they can be to embrace. It’s hard to let them simply be, and we think we have to do something about them, or wait for them to disappear, never to return.

These are thoughts we have about what we perceive as negative feelings; it’s never the ones that bring us joy. We’re glad to keep those, and we invite them to return often. We search for new ways to bring them back to us.

The conversation prompted me to think about something that happened years ago when a small group celebrated my grandmother’s birthday. She was well into her 80s, and although we didn’t know it at the time, she had only a short time left to live. When we gathered to sing to her around a cake with candles burning, she started crying and talking about visions she had of a daughter who had died many years before, 15 months after her birth. The atmosphere in the room sharply shifted. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, and not like a person who is about to blow out candles on a birthday cake.

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waitressservingPhoto by Iakov Filimonov

No, not the song, but if I’ve put it in your head, you’re welcome.

Not long ago I ordered a meal from a person who smiled and was cheerful throughout the transaction. It was late at night, and her job can’t be all that fun, yet her demeanor, not unlike that of the server in the photo above, was such that it seemed like she derived so much joy from serving people.

Soon after, I found myself thinking about something that hadn’t crossed my mind in a while.

More often than I’d care to admit, I’ve taken people in the service industry for granted. I see others who are worse offenders than I, but that doesn’t take me off the hook. It’s wrong to treat someone like a servant just because they are in a service type of job. And in terms of a test of a person’s character, there are few things as revealing as the way someone treats the wait staff at a restaurant.

What I found during my times when I was out of work, and even for weeks after returning to the ranks of the employed, is I felt the most empathy for people in such jobs at the times when I was at my most vulnerable. When things were tough for me. When I would have been happy to have any job. Those times taught me not to take anything for granted. I saw people working the checkout line or the service counter or answering the phones as real people, someone trying to make a living, feed their family, someone with goals and wishes and challenges in their lives, and struggles I didn’t know anything about.

Everyone is going through something. Try to be tender with them, try to empathize, especially if their job is to wait on you and serve you. As a friend of mine says, be kind.

I’ll try to do better myself when times are not so tough and I forget what it’s like.


Photo by Iakov Filimonov