When my oldest daughter was around 3 years old, I went on a girls’ weekend with my mother and sister. I left my daughter with her dad. He was on call that weekend and wouldn’t you know it, he got called into work. He asked a neighbor boy to come stay with her. Not wanting to wake her, he left without introducing her to the babysitter. She woke up to a virtual stranger, terrified. The babysitter called my cell as he couldn’t get her to come out from under the covers or to stop crying. I tried to comfort her over the phone, but could tell from her whisper of a voice that she was still afraid and I was four hours away. Grandpa came to the rescue that day (as he was only 45 minutes away).
The pain and distress my daugher felt that day shot through my heart. It took her several months, if not, longer to get over it. I felt like the worst mother ever. Would I have knowingly, on-purpose caused distress to my child? No way. Unless…her life was in danger, then absolutely.
This is why I can understand why immigrant families come to our border knowing they could be separated from their children – better in an internment camp than dead? I can’t imagine how horrible the conditions must be in their home countries that they would rather their children live without them in a foreign country, than die with them in a country overrun with violence. Sure I could be separated from my children, if I committed a felony or was deployed in the military, but in both cases the decisions would be mine. One could argue crossing an imaginary line in the sand is a choice as well, but is it, if the alternative means death for my children? This is called empathy. Would I make that same decision in their place if it meant my children would live? Yes. What would you do?
Sitting on a hard wooden pew as a child, I remember hearing this parable many times:
“‘For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'” (Matthew 25:42-45 (NIV))
In my heart of hearts I never wanted to be the one that passed by someone in need with a cold, hard heart. I strived to be like the Good Samaritan (another parable ingrained in my mind). In my mind I really wanted to be kind-hearted and help those less fortunate than me. I grew up believing in loving my neighbors as myself and in praying for my enemies. This is where I learned about empathy. “What would Jesus do?” Do you remember those bracelets from back in the 1990s? I had a green one.
A few months ago a woman approached me as my daughters and I were getting out of the car to go into the mall. She asked if I had any spare change to give as she’d run out of gas and didn’t get paid until the following week. I gave her what change I had in my pocket and knew my daughter had $10 in her coin purse. I asked her to give the money to the woman. She reluctantly gave the woman the money, who was very grateful. I assured my daughter I would pay her back the $10 as soon as we found an ATM. Yet, she was still salty (yes I just used teen lingo there) over the whole episode.
I asked her what was wrong as this is my child that has bible verses posted on her bedroom walls. I expected her to want to help others. As it turns out she thought the woman was scamming us or could have robbed us. I told her that yes, she was absolutely right. Both of those things could have been true. On the other hand, the woman may have been sincere in her need. I said I would rather assume she truly needed help. It was broad daylight and many people were around so I didn’t feel unsafe doing so. I told her I would rather ten people scam me, than not give to one person who could really use it. If I were in need (and I have been), I would and am truly grateful for those that have helped me.
I share this story not to shame my daughter or anyone else for that matter. Her fears come honestly. We live in a day and age where our society assumes the worst in others instead of the best. Imagine what life might be like if instead, we assumed the best by default? I’m not a theologian or a philosopher or a politician, but I honestly think it would be pretty damn awesome. In my cheesy, alter-universe, we live in a world full of empathy, compassion, tolerance and love. We are all human. Each and every one of us. We all have the same basic human needs (anyone remember Maslow?) Why can’t we move away from fear and hate to love and acceptance?
Whether you are a conservative, right-winger or a liberal, leftist, it doesn’t matter. We are all human. The right thinks the left is brain-washed and vice-versa. People shout “fake news” when the read something that doesn’t agree with whatever politician they support. In the end, we are in a quagmire. Yes, there are shades of gray. But there is also right and wrong. Taking young, innocent children away from their parents, who are only seeking a better life for themselves is w-r-o-n-g. I don’t care who put the policy in place (Clinton, Obama, Trump – I’ve seen all three in my news feeds today), it is doesn’t change it from being wrong. Two wrongs never make a right. Ignoring what is happening around us doesn’t alleviate our guilt, it makes us complicit.
Our country was founded on immigration. My grandfather came here from Mexico with his parents, seeking a better life. He worked as a hard laborer, a migrant worker and eventually along with his parents became naturalized citizens. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t sought a better life and to live the “American Dream.” (Even so, I had no control over where or when I was born and neither does anyone else, including the people we seek to keep out). We dehumanize the people who come to our borders, when we call them “illegals” or “criminals.” They want they same things that we want.
I read this Tweet from our president and I weep.
Children are not bargaining chips. People’s lives are not pawns in a political agenda. This is using blackmail and extortion to get what you want. These are real, human beings. This is not fake news. These screenshots are from reputable news feeds:
People are quick to comment and point fingers at each other, but fail to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. I read many un-related arguments to justify supporting this horrible policy (why are the Democrats mad, they support abortion? Why don’t they worry about American children instead of illegal aliens?) These arguments are beside the point and still doesn’t change the fact that what we are doing now is inhumane. For the record, I personally, do care about the American children living in poverty and orphanages and I think all human life is sacred (from the unborn to the criminals on death row) and I also think it is wrong to separate children from their parents. If we spent the millions (dare I say billions) of dollars earmarked for a wall or temporary camps for the displaced children and used it to help end poverty in our own country, to give those seeking a better life a path so they can become contributing citizens, we could make America even better.
Yes, we in doing so we may let in some “thugs” or “criminals” along they way. But, hey, at least we can all go out and buy an AR-15 style rifle to protect ourselves, just in case. (Yes, that was sarcasm there, but I digress.)
I know in the grand scheme of things, my little post means nothing and won’t change anything. But, if you shared this post to your feed, and someone else posted it to theirs, maybe the 1490 words of this blog post could make a difference.
One thought on “It’s Called Empathy”
Great post Sharlyn. I completely agree.
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