Empathy Vs. Sympathy

Everyone by now has nervously witnessed the American people dropping statements that either border on unconscious racism or enter blatant domains instead. Take Barabara Bush, for example. Apparently, she believes that “this is working out very well” for the poor who were forced to evacuate their homes—their lives.

I had a discussion with my friend Gerry last night about everything going on down South. Someone he knows well fully admitted to having less than compassionate thoughts for many of the displaced (poor, black) people in the Gulf. And I know a few people who have hinted to such as well. Thoughts like, “Well, they had every opportunity to get out in time. What they are experiencing now is totally their fault.” have been uttered more times than I care to admit.

What occurred to me yesterday, was that no matter how hard I try and no matter how long I live, I will probably NEVER fully understand or be able to empathize with many of the poor who were left when the levee gave way. All of my life I have had money. I was raised in a white, middle class home with two parents who loved me and made sure I had everything I ever needed.

Lately, I have had to stop myself from trying to understand the situation down South at all.

When we see the images on TV and in the paper, it’s easy to sympathize with the people who lost everything. But is it really possible for an upper middle class American to empathize with someone who has spent their life so poor? It seems to me, that when we attempt to empathize with an individual we can never fully understand or relate to we make poor decisions for them based on where our history has led us. And when those decisions backfire and said person doesn’t react the way we assumed that they should we throw our hands up and move closer and closer into a state of apathy.

In this day and age with such a drastic difference between classes, will there ever really be a solution?

46 Comments

  1. Everyone seems to think the poor in New Orleans had every opportunity to get out. They didn’t. Most of these people didn’t have a car. The only public transportation running on Saturday and Sunday was to take people to the Superdome. And then there are the elderly who probably didn’t even know about the mandatory evacuation. The city should have started evacuating Saturday morning to a neighboring city, but New Orleans has never been orderly about anything. The sad fact is that those of us from this area knew about the extreme poverty in New Orleans, but the rest of the country and some state officials seems somehow shocked. It’s very sad and it makes me feel that the people in charge don’t care about these people.

    Reply

  2. I agree. Those who were stuck down in New Orleans had no means of getting away. Most had no money, or no car, and no family anywhere else to stay with. Even if they did, how would they have gotten to them with no car or money? The sick and elderly were pretty much screwed unless a family member or caregiver took them someplace else.

    Reply

  3. Hey there – I did want to mention that though the comparison is askewed – the sources are from 2 different news agencies – most everything down here was referred to as “looting” – regardless of color. It is very sad the state that LA was in with their welfare problems. It’s sad that nobody “knew” about it until they couldn’t get away. It’s even sadder the “entitlement” mentality that these folks have because they’ve never worked for anything in their lives. Regardless of color, that is not good.

    Reply

  4. Hmmm. The deal in the South is generational and complex. It’s truly not a black/white issue. I wish it were that simple. We HAVE wronged generations of African Americans, but not in the ways being portrayed by the media.

    Well, I’ll shut up about that. I just hope everyone is ok now, in a safe, dry place.

    Reply

  5. Actually, I think its the opposite regarding the “entitlement” people felt. I believe that many DID work, maybe harder than most (labor jobs and whatnot just to make ends meet). I think they struggled in ways most of us might not be able to comprehend and that is why some may have felt a sense of entitlement. Its easy for us to assume they did not work. Maybe some have disabilites, maybe some have children with disabilaties and they are a single parent with no eduacation etc, etc. Many work hard for shit money and could never get ahead. Poverty is a cycle. I’m not excusing the looting, I just don’t feel its important to focus on in a horrenduous situation such as the one New Orleans in facing right now. Celine Dion summed it up quite well on Larry King recently. I still can’t believe Larry King had the nerve to ask her to sing after her emotional outcry. The nerve! Anywho. Thats all for now.

    Reply

  6. “I’m not excusing the looting”

    Hell, true survival needs always trump property rights in my book.

    Reply

  7. Ok, I can’t shut up, sorry.

    I agree that gathering food and water for your family is hardly looting. That’s not what a lot of people in N.O. and here were doing. They were breaking into people’s homes and into businesses. They were car jacking people. It was really really bad. It’s important to note that the real looting was acted out by black AND white people.

    I think what bothers me is the blame game. The people in N.O. didn’t DESERVE what happened. Of course they didn’t. Neither did we. But we were all warned way, way ahead of time.

    What scares me is that using poverty as a loophole perpetuates the cycle. A lot of people have been crippled by the system, and nothing has been done to help get them back on their feet. It’s rampant here, it’s a horrible problem. Those in power, white AND black don’t seem to mind it all that much, but I sure do.

    Reply

  8. Gonna have to agree with that. I did, however, get really pissed off at no on in particular while reading this article on the train yesterday. The folks lining up to buy guns in Baton Rouge should consider spending some cash on therapy. If that doesn’t work, might I suggest standoffs, old-west style? Fear is the best fuel for exposing ignorance.

    “Many were people from New Orleans with their own safety issues. But many were local residents jumpy about the newcomers from New Orleans and stocking up on Glock and Smith & Wesson handguns.”

    Reply

  9. “Hell, true survival needs always trump property rights in my book”.For me and most as well. In the end does it matter though? If it were the end of the world and we saw people stealing tvs and jeans, would we care in that moment?Hell no. We would see all kinds of crazy things going on and yes most of us would just be looking for the food and water. Its just that we are looking back on things right now and its easy to point the finger at those who took advantage regardless of their race or economic status. There’s other things to worry about than the looters and the poor companies who lost profits.

    Reply

  10. Looting? Who really cares about taking food and water from the local 5 and Dime. That’s not looting when you don’t have any aid coming your way and you’re stuck in a flood. I was taken aback by people taking things they didn’t need, but I mean seriously people, where’s that TV going to go? No homes, no electricity, no jobs, no food, no water, no money and nowhere to go. It was an act of desperation and frustration.

    Reply

  11. P.S. My “Gonna have to agree with that.” comment was in response to what Toby said.
    I have to add something. I am only now realizing that my post might have come off as a black/white issue. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I think what I would have liked to have made clear and didn’t was that for me this is a class issue and unfortunately just because of the shear numbers involved, for many this is a black and white issue. Does that make sense? This could have happened in say a poor “white trash” neighborhood and Mrs. Bush would have made the same claim.

    I have stopped making sense. Sorry.

    Reply

  12. all good stuff…I just wanted to mention by entitlement, I meant the people being moved to Texas are the poorest of the poor, the addicted, etc. Louisiana was a welfare state and the entitlement mentality ran rampant (taken from a commenter on my site) – so only basing that comment off the people we are housing here. It’s very sad.

    Reply

  13. Thanks for the clarification Silly Nessa. I agree with you on your point regarding the welfare mentality then. There are some people who take advantage and for that it is a shame. Once again, how would we fix a problem that has two kinds of people. Some want to help themselves by using the system to get on their feet, some just want to stay in the situation and be given everything. How can we begin to fix this problem?

    Reply

  14. That does make sense Mihow. It’s just a subject that’s close to my heart. I want us all to try to find a solution so this doesn’t happen again.

    Really shutting it now. :D

    Reply

  15. There’s no reason to shut it. Generally speaking, it’s a fallacy to believe that this discussion, as long it exists on the Internet and on numerous different blogs out there, that anyone other than the more fortunate are actually having it. That being said, I have hated myself lately for actually getting sucked into discussions like these online as it’s sort of like clapping with one loud, ignorant hand while the other empty hand remains silent elsewhere.

    Reply

  16. I promise I won’t post again :)

    But I did reread and wanted to note that Mrs. Bush (being a Houstonian) was probably referring to the thousands of people housed here in our complexes. For those folks, it probably IS working out pretty well. They’re living better than what they left behind. Most of them had nothing and now they have a warm bed, 3 square meals a day, tens of thousands of volunteers taking care of their every whim, right down to haircuts. I just wanted to give you some perspective on where she might be coming from. I’ve seen them all in person and they are truly doing well. The things they miss amount to not being able to smoke weed and party all night (I’m not kidding, those are actual words from the mouths of several survivors heard by my ears). I haven’t heard many (here, in Houston, housed at the Reliant Complex) complain about not having a home or belongings or a job. They are happy to be being taken care of. And I didn’t mean any of that in a cynical way, just a very matter-of-fact way. But anyway, that’s probably where that comment stemmed from.

    Reply

  17. That came out wrong. It’s an extension of what my initial post said. My point is, that most of us who are actually fortunate to be having online conversations haven’t been as hard up as many of the people recently nailed by the hurricane. Yet, I think I have some answers and continue to debate. It’s frustrating, you know?

    Reply

  18. y’all, I want to hear what people have to say. I really do. Stop saying you’re gonna shut up. yeesh. making me think, that’s a good thing.

    Reply

  19. you are so right, though – none of us can really put ourselves into their situation

    Reply

  20. Yeah, I guess it is like we are preaching to the choir. The very people we are speaking of are not able to give their two sense. Can someone get some computers and internet to Houston, etc? We need to get some dialogue going.

    Reply

  21. hey, we’re american, it’s our nature to feel bad for people when life is pounding on the ‘anyone’. but it is also our nature to help people(white black yellow green blue whatever) and people from around the world. we help more people than any other group of people on the planet. what pisses me off and is so sad is “the blame game” crap running rampant. the complainers always talk in past tense…what we could have done, what we should have done. these people “should” be talking about what we can do from now…the damage is done so lets get together and fix it like americans can! politicians(black &white)suck the news sucksblack and white) racists suck(black or white)

    Reply

  22. Oh, I wholeheartedly agree. I am trying to remain positive. TJ and I were discussing ways to look to the future and avoid laying blame. What did you call it Toby? What did you call it when a bunch of folks sit on the sidelines and complain? Much like I am doing now? Yeesh. I am such a fucking hypocrite. Let’s do something. Yes. Let’s.

    Reply

  23. how funny, Todd Lewen is speaking on NPR explaining how they are handing out debit cards, etc and toward the end of the day they start turning people away and telling them to visit http://www.redcross.gov to find out more or sign up online. And he said the people often stare blankly having no idea what www even means. Interesting. We really do take this mode of communication for granted.

    Reply

  24. “monday morning quarterbacking”?

    Reply

  25. constitutionally incapable of shutting it

    I think everyone has a right to their opinion. It just bothers me that the media pumps out all of this crapola and sometimes people accept it as fact. If what they are saying were true, then my magical craker powers should have fixed my house and procured a phat check from the feds by now. Alas this is not the case. Despite my honkitude, were it not for friends and family we would be on the street right now.

    Reply

  26. That’s it, Greg! Thanks. Only he just said “Armchair Quarterback”

    Amanda, speaking of which, I just hit up your Amazon list. I hope I didn’t get you duplicates. I’m working on something more personal, too. ;]

    Reply

  27. Ok, I have to throw one last opinion out before getting on with the rest of my day without the computer. I think looking at a situation and seeing what went wrong and what can be worked on IS a good thing for our FUTURE. If someone doesn’t do their job or show up to work, they get fired. They’re not reliable. This New Orleans situation shouldn’t be any different. People can still fix a problem while also figuring out what went wrong so the same mistakes are not made again in the future. If anything, maybe its just not the time to be discussing what went wrong, what shoulda, woulda, coulda happened. But it eventually should be discussed. This was a half man-made disater/ natural. We must learn.

    Reply

  28. Spankyou my sweetheart. Sorry about my sarcasm. I have flogged myself with a wet noodle in penance. (penance- like I don’t enjoy it)

    Reply

  29. Sarah, I agree with that, too. Well, if only because this Brown guy seems like some sort of a moron. But again, I am just going by what I have read and the way he acts during interviews. Dude should be fired. And the people who “matter” the fearless leaders up top need to be held accountable for whatever went wrong. In the meantime, it’d rule to see the rest of the world (us) look to the future and join a local charity or something. Maybe I’ll start cleaning up trash. Lord knows. that, and animal cruelty are the two things that make me foam at the mouth.

    Reply

  30. last night i sat at a bar and ate and drank with this guy “RED”(i don’t know his name, this is what we call him). Red’s a 56 year old black man from New Orleans who decided to get out. his immediate family still lives in NO and they all left early because of the news of the hurricane. many of their neighbors did not leave and he knows of several that died. some of the ones that stayed were waiting for welfare checks. Red has 12 grandchildren, it would be 13 but the oldest was murdered, he was 15. red never got an education until he decided that his grandchildren were going the wrong direction and the local and state government in LA was useless and always promising this or that and never coming through. Red is a democrat and will always be a democrat as he states and still doesnot know why, he claims they’re useless and corrupt and this storm was a perfect example of how the system down there is broken yet he still remains faithful to his party. anyhow, once he got his GED, he applied to college here in western pennsylvania and graduated just last june. this guys had stories upon stories that totally amazed me until i had drunk way way too much just listening to him talk. but what really struck me as amazing is that the only reason he got his GED and got his college degree was to prove to his grandchildren that they have the ability to make a change for themselves and not to wait a lifetime for someone else to give them something, something that will never come.

    Reply

  31. And it’s stories like these that remind me of why I keep comments open. Thank you, Greg, for sharing that. And since I know you and have had plenty of beers with you, I can imagine the evening even more vividly. Amazing. I wish Red well. Next time you see him, buy him a drink on me. :]

    Reply

  32. Cheney has balls of steel or the brain of an ant, probably a bit of both.“very impressive”

    Reply

  33. no problem……i think he likes my girlfriend, so i’m sure i’ll see him soon

    : )

    Reply

  34. “While Cheney spoke, a passer-by hurled an expletive at the vice president. “First time I’ve heard it,” Cheney said, when asked if he was hearing a lot of such sentiments.”

    IF this doesn’t have SNL or Jon Stewart written all over it, I know nothing.

    Reply

  35. I heart you and your site and I truly hope I haven’t offended in any way, but I wanted to say that your comment about Lewen’s comment on the debit cards. This is why I despise the media. I don’t know about anywhere else, but here in Houston, it’s not the end of the day and the lines are long, but they are not being told to go to the internet. I’m not down there today, but my husband is and he said it’s crazy and the lines are long, but they’re not running out of anything, nor are they steering them to the www. I know your comment was meant to take a look at how we do take this form of communication for granted, but I wanted to point out how much the media is making the situation into something it’s not. By now I’m just babbling – I’m sorry. Greg – wonderful story about Red – that is truly awesome!

    Reply

  36. Again, don’t apologize. First of all I tend to believe half of what I see and almost none of what I hear anymore. 9/11 beat the cynicism into me. We were told shit via the media that was blatantly false and the only people who knew that were people who lived here. I grew to hate them, quite honestly. That’s awful.
    But I also have to add that I may have miss-quoted him. And you’re right, his (the only thing i know I got right was his name) point was that many folks down there are so poor and/or old they know nothing about the Internet, etc. I should really think more before I write. I tend to write really fast now that I work and that’s not a good thing since folks are (sometimes) actually reading. :]

    Reply

  37. the media is, for the most part, full of shit. and i think that has more to do with ownership of the outlets than a blight on the profession.
    it’s interesting that this current catastrophe has emboldened a few journalists to the point of actually doing their jobs (cooper v. landrieu, koppel v. brown, etc.). we’re seeing a major media backlash against this administration – really for the first time. i hope it continues. the major news networks have more power than anyone else in the country and it would be nice to see it used for something else besides spouting the republican party line.
    that cooper v. landrieu is great, btw –click meâ

    Reply

  38. Allow me to just rewind this thing a little a place a bit of context on those white vs. black captions that I found interesting… from the mouth (or fingers) of the photographer. Though we can continue to talk about circumstances, or other general leanings towards subconcious judgements or labeling, it might not be worth pinning your argument on that particular example.

    Reply

  39. er.. go down to Chris Graythen’s post on the first page of that forum thread

    Reply

  40. The media is fucking bullshit.
    .
    The reporters are, indeed, mostly liberal. That’s because they went to decent colleges, and you don’t really see many smart conservatives go into anything other than business. So yeah, there is a liberal slant in media and academics. No one ever complains about a conservative slant in business though.
    .
    But the outlets are all owned by conservative corporate interests, which i think Ian was alluding to, and that gives you some balance in terms of liberal vs conservative.
    .
    In terms of under-reporting things though, I think that has to do more with ‘access’ and ratings. Example: if ABC goes crazy on the Bush administration – reporting only true things and actually being unbiased – the administration then gives ABC the shittiest access to press conferences, cuts them out altogether, doesn’‘t give access to people, and doesn’t answer their questions – possibly instead using gay male escort plants to ask soft questions as they have in th past.
    .
    And that’s not a national issue – the press is facing that globally and in local markets—if you talk shit about anything polictal, you’re blackballed. So the media reports on the most banal, obvious, and utterly inconsequential bullshit because, if they were actually doing their job, they would be forced into the position that it would be harder to do their job.
    .
    So the media can suck my ass. All of it – as in all of my ass and all of the media being there sucking it.

    Reply

  41. Ian, thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen that broadcast.

    Reply

  42. is st.martin parish considered a disater area for red cross assitance

    Reply

  43. Tomica, I’m not sure. However, I found this link:

    http://stmartinparish-la.org/government.htm

    Or click here instead.

    Also, this link might help.

    Let me know if I can be of any assistance to you, tomica.

    Reply

Leave a Reply