A friend of mine, I’ll call her Betty, had a very unpleasant experience with a customer service representative at a local discount department store. After waiting in a long line for help, the customer service rep decided to ignore her because her request was going “to take awhile”. Betty’s request involved making phone calls to other stores in the chain and the woman at the counter did not feel like making them. The woman began to help the woman waiting behind Betty, while everyone in line was shocked by her incredibly rude behavior.
Another friend of mine volunteers at a food pantry. He told me the other day that a lot of people come in for food, but then turn much of the food away. The food that is being turned away is the healthier, more basic components of a home cooked meal. One woman asked him of a can of beans, “What am I supposed to do with this?” She wanted to know why she couldn’t just get a gift card to McDonald’s. The young mother had never learned to cook and wasn’t interested in learning.
These two examples are not uncommon. I want to acknowledge that it can be very hard to empathize with people who are struggling when they don’t seem to be interested in helping themselves. To be honest, it is demoralizing and frustrating. In the first story, you see a woman working a low wage job with an attitude so poor you wonder if she’s even worth the low wage she’s paid. In the second example, there’s another woman who should be grateful that she’s getting any help but wants everything handed to her, oblivious to the fact that what she wants is actually harmful to her young family.
I don’t want to ignore these experiences. American History is full of stories of young, poor, hard-working people who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. This hopeful story still inspires us today. However, when the people we come in contact with do not live up to this ideal, we harden our hearts towards them and no longer see them as people like ourselves.