My father didn’t get mad very often. I remember him yelling only once. That was when he took me, my sister, and one of her friends to a circus and caught us making fun of a handicapped man.
Even now I can remember the force of his anger -and the volume of his voice! You can bet I didn’t have to learn that lesson a second time! His anger totally chastised me for being so uncaring and insensitive. Yet, mortified as I was, I could be grateful for one thing, and that’s that the handicapped man was far enough away that he didn’t hear any of it.
When you’re that young, you can be thoughtless like that because you don’t fully realize how disadvantaged people not only need, but deserve, a bit more patience and consideration. We give some grace to the young because of that understandable immaturity, but evidently there are people who still need to be taught such basic lessons even if they are now adults.
This week someone forwarded to me an article about some people standing in line for a movie behind a man with notable handicaps. Because of his limitations, he was taking longer than others to get to his wallet (even though he started reaching for it before he got to the head of the line), and was holding things up a bit when a woman behind him said “They shouldn’t let people like that come to the movies.” And she said it loud enough that the handicapped man heard it.
Can you believe that? I hate to think what my dad would have thought about me doing that long after I was old enough to know better!
This could have been just an awful humiliation for the handicapped man, but luckily there was another man in the line who turned to the woman and let her have it about her rudeness and lack of feeling (hopefully she was as remorseful as I was). And when that man got to the front of the line to pay for his ticket, he was surprised to learn that it was already paid for – by the handicapped man!
Isn’t that great? Don’t you just love to hear a story like that, where a little bit of justice gets done? You’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be happy that the handicapped man got to know that someone cared enough and respected him enough to defend him, and that he didn’t have to walk away feeling alone and demeaned. And just as well that the man who spoke up was recognized and knew that he was appreciated.
In a favorite movie, a character, speaking about politics and his individual contribution to the world says “I support the view that you just don’t think about the big picture. You add your light to the sum of light.” I half like that, but not fully, because I think that you do have to think about the big picture too, yet the idea that you can be part of improving a big, cold, impersonal and unbending world, or at least your small patch of it, by a comparatively small act highlights how meaningful we have the opportunity to be in even the most mundane rituals of ordinary life.
I think of it that way, that taking a stand is, I tell myself, a way to create the world that I want to live in. It helps to consciously take that view, otherwise there is a tendency to see one’s own actions as small, and minimally significant. Granted, I know that I am not shaking things up on a global level, but I tell myself that unexpected assistance to a stranger, being supportive to someone who’s unjustly attacked, not passing on that bit of gossip, making a donation, and things like are like being a resistance fighter against the occupying forces of divisiveness and cynicism, with every bit of push back being a skirmish that is won and a bit more light added to the sum of it.
And these are self-rewarding acts, likely to inspire you to do more for others. After all, generosity has that effect.
I think this view can work for you too, helping you to remember the real power that you have and inspire you to use it as much as you have opportunity to do.
Mike S., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 1997 as an EAP Counselor. He has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Social Work with a specialty certificate in alcohol and drug abuse treatment from Western Michigan University. Prior to joining Empathia, he worked as a substance abuse counselor and in a program for adolescent sexual offenders. Mike likes reading, music, movies and travel.
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