Saturday, April 18, 2015

Annoyance, Identification and Empathy


It's part of the experience of daily living for everyone. Everyone. And in many cases the annoyance is understood, people around are empathic, compassionate and supportive. I remember being in a store hearing a woman, upset that she had driven into the city to find that the section of the store she wanted to visit was under renovation, express herself and her annoyance clearly. The staff were apologetic, they made it known that they would feel that way too. In the end they all agreed that the situation was unfair. One clerk called around to where the customer could find similar products in a store nearby. It was resolved.

It wasn't resolved because of the store nearby but because the clerks there understood the frustration, identified with the woman's situation and communicated their acceptance of her annoyance as being real and the situation frustrating. It began with affirmation.


The other day Joe and I decided that we wanted to go to a particular store to do some shopping on our drive from one city to the next. It was only a wee bit out of our way and I began my work day with the idea that I'd be doing something fun and relaxing before doing the drive to the next city. When the day was over, I got into the van, and we headed to the store. When I rolled in, I could see immediately that the section of the store that I wanted to shop in was the only section of the store that was up a flight of stairs. I could see that there was no elevator. I was disappointed. I had really looked forward to this.

I expressed my frustration, politely, to the clerk. She looked at me and said, "Yeah, well, that's the way it is." I felt slapped. No compassion. No empathy. No understanding. She stood there with her arms crossed looking from me to the stairs with a 'aren't you used to this by now,' look. Joe went upstairs, after hearing what I was looking for, and he and another, nicer, clerk, brought things down to me. This is not how I shop. I like to browse. Neither Joe or the woman helping really understood what I wanted, so I thanked the clerk who'd helped and we left.

At no point did either clerk show an understanding and appreciation for the source of my annoyance. At no point did they validate that, yeah, coming to a store, indeed coming out of my way to a store, and having the section be inaccessible would be annoying. More than annoying, it was isolating. Sitting at the bottom of stairs while people ran up and down bringing me what I didn't want. Sitting there feeling the mounting frustration of the clerk who brought me a selection of things I didn't want, like she expected me to buy something because she brought them. I work too hard for my money to be buying things to make clerks happy.

I sometimes wonder if people get annoyed with my annoyance because they can't, or won't , use empathy as part of their process of understanding. They could identify with a woman, who was 'like' them. Here the clerk couldn't identify with a person 'different' from them.

I wonder if a large part of prejudice is the inability or unwillingness to be empathic with a class of people that someone devalues. I wonder if the idea of empathy, which requires a degree of emotional identification, is terrifying at the least or sullying at the worst, is actually eschewed by those who simply can't accept the essential unifying humanity of an other, a lesser.

I don't know.

But, it would have gone a long way for me and my experience of the store.


Anonymous said...

I drag myself and my walker up their steps, slowly, if I need to.

Should be enough encouragement for them.

But you're right, it's their attitude.


jo(e) said...

Oh, I think you're right. Empathy is the key. I need to remember that.

clairesmum said...

Your ability to notice and process and write about these experiences and your own responses to them, with unsparing honesty, amazes me over and over again. You are teaching me, Dave.

Anonymous said...

I went into a local grocery store which I know carries a small selection of sugar-free and no sugar added candy. It is a treat. A friend had said she thought she had spied some sugar free bakery goods on her last visit. This is indeed a rare find, especially now that the gluten free market has exploded. In anticipation I approached a bakery employee and asked if there was any sugar-free items. "Sure", he replied. He then came out from behind the counter and took a few steps. I followed, thinking he was taking me to a special case, but instead he stopped and pointed to fruit. "Try that!". He then turned and walked away. I stood there stunned. Stunned that he would do that. Stunned at the assumptions. Stunned. I almost turned back and gave him a diabetic lecture on sugar content of fruit, but figured I was just casting pearls before swine.

Sometimes I wish all employees were owners and paid the price of me telling my family, friends and fellow diabetics about the treatment. There are a lot of choices of grocery stores out there, and all of my contacts do not shop there anymore.

Annoyance. No kidding.