Thursday, February 4, 2016

Empathy Update!

I'm so happy to learn that a Go Fund Me page has been set up for Dolores Westfall, who is the 79 year old woman living in her RV and traveling from job to job who was featured in the LA Times story, "Too Poor to Retire, Too Young to Die," that inspired me to write the post below entitled, "Empathy." Here is the link to the Go Fund Me page: It is so reassuring to me that kindness no matter how humble always seems to trump meanness and evil in geometric proportion. A good reminder to myself to try to remain optimistic in the human condition. Just read some of the comments and you'll see what I mean. :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


So yesterday I read an article that a friend posted on Facebook published by the LA Times entitled, “Too Poor to Retire and Too Young to Die,” ( about aging nomads who through a series of unfortunate incidents and personal choices have wound up roaming the country in their motor homes, living on the cheap, and working at low-wage jobs as they are able. The whole situation sounds like an arduous slippery slope into abject poverty, but my initial reaction was that I was amazed by the tenacity these people were showing – they were not taking public assistance as far as I could tell from the article, and they seemed to be trying to get a leg up on their situations through their own efforts.

Of course, like being unable to look away from a car wreck on the highway, I started reading some of the comments below the post on Facebook. The lack of empathy expressed by some was not surprising really, although the angry hatred expressed by the unsympathetic stayed with me overnight. Of course I should not have looked, but I have been trying to get some understanding and perspective on the huge divide that I feel exists in our nation – in politics certainly, but also in how we treat each other, and in how we just talk to one another.

After the Paris attacks, I became absolutely intolerant of communication via meme. No matter which side of an issue you are on, memes are almost always snarky and inflammatory and therefore I'm convinced get in the way of actual intelligent constructive conversation between people. Additionally, memes often contain blatantly inaccurate information, such as attributing a quote to someone famous who didn't actually say this and that, or including statistics that are complete fabrications, or not crediting a primary source. Facebook of course fosters this, as does Twitter where people try to communicate in 140-character bursts. Social networking has also redefined the concept of “friend,” in my opinion.

But for sure I'd had it after Paris, and we are all indeed in charge of our social media and how we use it. So after Paris, I culled my “Friend” list on Facebook by one-third, limiting it to those people I know personally, interact with in real life, and yes, who I like in real life. I must say, my news feed improved immediately. I don't have a Twitter account, and so far, Pinterest doesn't seem to have these sorts of issues, although I control what I see there too. I suppose some could argue that I am cutting off hearing things I don't agree with, but I feel like I still hear plenty I don't agree with, but I hear it in a more constructive way, in a way that fosters conversation and actual constructive actionable ideas.

So back to this LA Times article and the hatred spewed in the comments. I could make an observation about the demographic spewing the arrogant crap, but that would get in the way of the points I want to make. One of the folks featured in the article is a 79 year old woman who travels from low-wage job to low-wage job. The roof on her motor home is leaking and she needs a new water pump. So to the haters, if she were your grandmother, or mom, or sister, would you help her? You, who have self-proclaimed your brilliance at navigating your own lives – so far – and saved from early childhood so that you don't have to try to make it on Social Security in your old age, would you help your grandmother? I mean, she's not taking public assistance, but through a series of decisions that you have no knowledge of, she's in a bit of a predicament. She hasn't asked for help, and she'd probably be embarrassed to do so. I mean, she's 79 and working some pretty arduous jobs. I would point out to the haters that they themselves are a series of decisions away from a similar fate.

Regarding Social Security, I can imagine us being on the same side of the argument: yes, Social Security was put in place to be a part of one's retirement, and yes it was not intended to be the sole source of retirement income, but don't you find it hypocritical that the ordinary citizens must pay into it, but Congress and the politicians do not? Don't you find it maddening that they borrow from it, and control it, and constantly do things to it that threaten its solvency? Don't you find it irritating that they can serve just one term, and they receive a pension for life? Can't you imagine how much of a relief it would be to have the health insurance policy that Congress has? It kind of makes me want that job, just for one term. Don't you think we should be talking about that? Politicians love to turn us against ourselves. They are masters of deflection. Maybe if they can get us arguing among ourselves about takers wanting handouts and redistribution of wealth, we'll get sidetracked from the issue of how they constantly mismanage Social Security, and how they have voted themselves comfy privileges and securities that most of us ordinary folk will never know.

So you've managed to navigate life. You're working, you're saving, you don't spend on what you consider to be unnecessary. Perhaps you were able to go to college and therefore get a better job – did you pay for your education all on your own? Did you have some help? Parents or scholarship? Perhaps you're healthy, strong, you've not had debilitating illness or accident, you've got a supportive family and network, you've never had a bad person pass through your life. One thing I know for sure, life is a marathon and all that, and you don't get through it alone, so your cold-hearted arrogance and hatred, and your lack of empathy will not go unanswered. How much of your life is due to your stunning life skills, and how much to just plain serendipity? Because it for sure is not because of your superior brain or big heart.