One theme that presents itself over and over again in human history is that during times of great stress – famine, war, natural disasters – the capacity for empathy in general suffers as people attend to their own survival. That’s why stories about people rising above catastrophes make us feel so good – because we realize that it’s special, and admirable, to rise above one’s own pain to care for others.
So when we have tremendous failures of empathy, I tend to look for the tragedy driving it. And right now, I don’t see it.
This year Pope Francis washed the feet of women, the disabled, prisoners, and non-Catholics. A symbolic and archaic act to be sure, but no less radical now than it was 2,000 years ago. To wash someone's feet is to submit yourself before them; to say that you are no more important than they are. I am not a Catholic, but this act of humility speaks to me; it inspires me.
I spent the past week in Las Vegas at a trade show. I saw many acts of kindness, friendship, and even love. Trade shows can be such an exciting time as friends and business associates across an industry gather together for what may be the only time each year. But trade shows are also a microcosm of the world we live in, and if you are aware, you will see many instances of jockeying for power and position.
My daughter has two children and is pregnant with her third. She’s also works full time as a nurse, and she just returned to school to become a Nurse Practitioner. She’s really busy. I go to her house on Wednesday and Friday mornings to take care of the kids, and while I’m there I’ll do things that need doing. A load of laundry. A sink full of dishes. Whatever I find.
This drives my daughter crazy. She appreciates it, but she feels like I shouldn’t be cleaning her house. She says, “You do too much already.” Then she says the thing that really matters – as if I needed her to explain herself: “I don’t have time to do it all, so I let the things sit that can wait, and I don’t do the things that don’t need to be done. I’m OK with that.”
We were watching a television show the other day, and one of the characters purchased a $10,000 bottle of champagne. I wondered, "How many people in this world actually have the palate to appreciate the difference between a $10,000 bottle of champagne and a $1,000 bottle of champagne?" I do believe there are some folks who could genuinely taste the value and experience terrific joy from such an investment. And assuming that a $10,000 spend didn't create hardship for themselves or anyone else, more power to them. I certainly do not have that palate. I enjoy all products of the grape, but I know the limitations of my sensibilities. For me, my life would experience no greater benefit from the $10,000 bottle than it would from the $1,000 bottle. So defines the extent to which I am willing to spend money on champagne.
I didn't watch the Super Bowl yesterday. It's just not my thing. Normally it would have been on at my house, because my wife is a rabid football fan, but we respected Super Bowl Silence this year since she's still bruised over the Packers.
I was peripherally aware that Katy Perry was doing the Half Time show. She's a talented young lady (though not an artist I follow much), so I assumed it would be entertaining. Yet, when I looked at my Facebook feed at the end of the day, all I saw was Katy Perry bashing. A lot of it. People - adults - complaining that she's not talented, she's an offense to music, she’s worse than every other available singer, and that the NFL was stupid for hiring her. How tiresome.
Motherhood, even the most well-intentioned versions, is messy, filled with mistakes, and infused with worry. We are told from our earliest days that it’s not supposed to be those things. Television and popular culture tell us – have always told us – that successful parenting is simply a blend of a strict-but-loving mother who can handle any crisis with a wry comment and a dose of practicality, and a loving father who backs up mother and throws in a pinch of discipline as needed.