When I read the below article I busted out laughing and went Really? And then I said no. Kindness and empathy are in the eye of the beholder.
Right now I sit in an acclaimed historical school where Michelle Obama addressed the graduates three years ago. They have an artifact room that rivals any museum or library all of it curated by the alumni who included the original Freedom Riders.
I walked through the halls and thought there must be the spirits of some amazing humans who once passed through and I focused on that energy to remind myself of the good of people and the talent that youth have when focused on the same positive energy.
And then my day began and the reality arrived through the classroom doors. This school is the most diverse in Nashville, its students are chosen via lottery once they pass the academic tests required to be submitted into the lottery and then they are chosen and enrolled. It is a hybrid middle and high school, starting at grade 7 and goes through grade 12. They have academic focus but also extensive sport and music program, it is old school new school combined.
But they are not the wealthiest as those kids go to private academies here regardless. The division in Nashville is truly about money and then by race and they are in the Venn Diagram of life highly overlapping. I have not met these kids so I have no idea what they are or are not like but they could not be worse than the kids I have met in the public school circuit.
Selfish, unkind, rude, arrogant and utterly ignorant are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when I leave a school at days end. I used to be like all the white "privilege" folks (do they make $11/hr?) and make excuses, explanations and justifications for why they were this way. I blamed myself and of course internalized that in ways that were self destructive and truly damaging.
Then I stopped empathizing and I felt better. I hate these schools, HATE. I do believe that the schools here are damaged to the point of no return and the children reflect that - damaged. So, while I don't hate them, I want little to nothing to do with them, which makes Teaching hard; then again I don't believe the school district wants that from Subs they want chair warmers. I am warming mine just fine but I miss kids, teaching, dialogs, exchanges and when the only conversation I have is with an Egyptian kid with ADD who thinks we need a military coup to run America, the day is not going well at all. And yet despite the intensity of the subject matter he was a nice kid who I listened to, I did not agree with him one iota but I allowed him the ability to speak freely. That is all I could do. I simply think he is like many children of Immigrants - ultra conservative - and a child espousing his father's viewpoint. Trust me if the GOP knew that they would have shut Trump up long ago.
I foolishly tried to have another conversation which here is pushing the envelope and telling a young man how interesting it was to be in such a school with such a history, an archival room and a city that has a complex and rich history that it too is a reflection of the larger issues and picture about the American diorama and should be a model for the starting place on how to have a dialog about race and history and one needs to look no further than in that schools halls, the downtown corridor, the Hermitage, Cheekwood and Belmont. As I was talking about this 4 girls were utterly ignoring this exchange and talking loudly and finally one said, she is talking about her life story when someone asked what we were talking about. Yes I could account that as normal but I can assure you I have never had such resistance, such obstinacy and such utter dismissal of issues that in a Seattle classroom would have had a greater response. For all the supposed need to talk about race, move to the South you will never have that Courageous Conversation, ever.
And when I stopped and said at that point, I was done as how I have been treated in Nashville is so appalling I have no idea what to say or do to change that so I simply have to stop caring, stop talking and stop giving a damn. The kids laughed. So tell me about poverty and empathy.
I used to be kind now I kind of don't care. I am interested in my own self preservation and finding the ways to make it through and find what I need, take what I want and get the hell out. Ah the South famous for its carpetbaggers, add me to the list.
How can you tell if someone is kind? Ask how rich they are.
Studies show that the wealthy are less empathetic than the poor, whether they're driving a car or serving in Congress.
By Karen Weese
The Washington Post
October 21 2016
I was polishing off some pancakes at Denny’s with a friend when our waitress dropped off the check. We paid the $11 bill, and my friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.
I tried not to look surprised. My friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two kids on less than $19,000 a year.
She read my face. “Look at her,” she said, cocking her head at our waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant. “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she’s got a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to. She needs it more than I do.”
I felt my face turn red. I could afford an extra $5. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “You are something else,” I said finally.
“Nah,” she demurred. “But I used to be her, you know? So I know how it is. Besides, karma’s a b—- and you can never be too careful.” She winked and reached for her keys. “Ready to go?”
There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient. It’s what motivates families of cancer survivors to participate so eagerly in fundraising walks and why my friend at Denny’s gave so readily to our waitress. It’s also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to Harvard University, his alma mater, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.
Proximity plays a role, too. We give more easily to the people and causes we see, often regardless of the magnitude of the need. Americans gave nearly $1 billion more to the approximately 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks than they gave to victims of the South Asian tsunami three years later, even though the latter tragedy killed more than a quarter of a million people. A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy showed that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy Zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities. If you never see a homeless person or a trailer park, it’s easier to forget they exist.
But a lot of it comes down to the sheer capacity for empathy — and it turns out that some people have more of it than others.
When shown photos of human faces with different expressions, lower-income subjects are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly, according to a study by Yale professor Michael Kraus. (This makes some intuitive sense — if keeping your job depends on reading your customers’ emotions, you’ll probably get good at it.) When University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded behavior at four-way stop signs, they found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars. In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a crosswalk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them. In other experiments, lower-income subjects were less likely than higher-income individuals to cheat, lie and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.
Strangely, even just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly. When University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed study participants with images of money (showing them screensavers depicting floating cash, or asking them to unscramble lists of words that included terms like “cash” and “bill”), they were less likely to give money to a hypothetical charity. And when a research assistant dropped a box of pencils on the floor right beside them (pretending it was an accident), the money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.
Does this mean wealthier people are inherently more selfish and self-absorbed, and lower-income people inherently more generous and empathetic? Or did being rich or poor make them that way?
There is “an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here,” Michael Lewis wrote in the New Republic in 2014. “But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains.”
Indeed, when University of North Carolina researcher Keely Muscatell showed high- and low-income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying personal stories, the brains of the low-income subjects showed much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.
Similarly, when University of Toronto researcher Jennifer Stellar showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital bravely undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration — which scientists use as a measure of compassion — than their higher-income counterparts.
This is, of course, not good news for a society with an inequality problem. If being richer makes people less empathetic toward the struggles of others, the people with the most power and resources will be the least inclined to help. And this seems to actually be the case: A 2014 study of Congress members found that while Republican lawmakers favored the same economic policies regardless of their personal wealth, Democratic legislators’ support for certain policies rose or fell in line with their bank accounts. Richer Democrats were more likely to favor lower taxes on the wealthy and decreased business regulation, while relatively poorer Democrats were more likely to support legislation to make college more affordable or increase the minimum wage.
But there are some positive findings. Even though rich subjects’ physiological changes suggest that they feel less empathy for others’ suffering, researchers in another experiment found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.
What’s more, everyone, rich and poor, responds better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group. (Social scientists even have a name for this: the “identifiable victim bias.”) Many Americans only vaguely aware of the Syrian refugee crisis were moved to help when they saw a photo of a dark-haired toddler in tiny sneakers whose body had washed up on the beach after a failed sea crossing. Thousands of strangers sent birthday cards to an autistic 12-year-old boy named Logan Pearson when his mother posted his photo and a plea on social media. A Detroit man named James Robertson received more than $300,000 in donations from strangers after the local newspaper reported how he walked 21 miles every day just to get to work. When a ponytailed 19-year-old in Ohio named Lauren Hill told a reporter that she dreamed of playing college basketball despite her diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, 10,000 people packed the arena to cheer her on.
These blooms of generosity are not replacements for policy-level action that can permanently change the lives of people on the darker side of the inequality spectrum, just as a big tip or a one-time holiday gift to a food pantry doesn’t fundamentally change the long-term arithmetic for a waitress earning $8 an hour.
But what they show is that almost everyone, including the well-off, can be moved to care about the less fortunate and less powerful, in spite of whatever effects wealth may have on them. Individual stories help. Exposure helps. Just paying attention — to the waitress, the person in the crosswalk, the cleaning staff in the corridor of the conference center — helps. Imagination helps, too.
I know a man who runs a large, urban affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit program in which low-income families build their own homes alongside community volunteers and then buy the houses at a reduced rate. On the first day of construction, he tells me, retired guys from the suburbs itching to break out their power tools show up to work with the future homeowner, often a working single mom with young kids who’s never been on a construction site in her life. “They have nothing in common and no idea what to do with each other,” he says.
But the weeks go by, and one guy shows her how to use a circular saw. Another man helps her perfect her swing with a hammer. They suffer together stapling up itchy pink insulation on a 100-degree day and freeze on the frosty afternoon they put up the siding. There is lunch, and laughter, and eventually a house. “And on the last day, when I stand on the front porch and look out over that same group that didn’t know what to do with each other only a few months before, it’s a completely different vibe,” he tells me. “It’s just — ” He pauses, like he knows this going to sound corny. “It’s just love.” She’s better off, and so are her kids. But so are they.
It’s an uphill battle for the well-off to fight the effects of wealth on their minds, to consciously step out of their circles and pay attention to the places where dinner is not certain, where keeping the lights on is a struggle, where a trailer park is a place real people live, not a punch line. Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.
At the very least, it bears remembering that the givers and the takers may not be who we thought they were.
Carpet and Bag
When I read the below article I busted out laughing and went Really? And then I said no. Kindness and empathy are in the eye of the beholder.