According to the dictionary, empathy is defined as “the understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives”. I find it difficult to understand that a person could lack such consideration and compassion for another living creature, but, clearly, I have seen otherwise. On many occasions, I have witnessed disconcerting behavior both aimed at myself, or other individuals and have questioned the our society’s complacent moral standards. For as long as I can remember, my ability to treat others with kindness has been second nature, and a vital part in my moral practices and beliefs.
Faced with many challenges during my childhood, my empathetic disposition was not only enhanced, but, undoubtedly, the strongest building block in my ethical foundation. Naturally, my mother was a pivotal person in creating my moral standards, but my peers were equally important. My parents divorced when I was six years old, and shortly after my older sister and brother moved out on their own. At this point in her life, my Mom had never worked, and suddenly she found herself financially vulnerable.
It was just Mom and I, and as she liked to say, “It’s you and me against the world. ” As do many kids, I wore the hand me down clothes, and often did not have the money to participate in extracurricular activities with my friends. Do not get me wrong– I was very happy. My Mom and I were extremely close, and even though I did not have the best clothes, the best housing, my Mom gave me so much love and generosity in other ways, that I felt I was the luckiest kid in the world. Yes, I was lucky in unconditional love, but I needed more than just my mother’s acceptance in this world.
Less privileged financially than my peers, overweight, and extremely buck toothed, I became the target of much teasing. A particular group of children at a bus stop were especially mean. Along with their ringleader, Marianne, those kids were so incredibly cruel to me, that I vowed never in my life would I intentionally inflict such pain on another living soul. Peer pressure, unfortunately, is an obstacle that children must contend with. Humiliating as the experience was, it taught me firsthand the profound effect our words and actions can have on others.
At the age of thirteen, my life began to change dramatically for the better, but still there were difficult circumstances beyond my control. My mother had been dating a wonderful man named Jack, and they decided to get married. Not only was I blessed with a terrific new stepfather, but a beautiful new home ir great neighborhood. The braces for my buckteeth were in the near future, and my wardrobe included brand new clothes from the “Pretty Plus” department at Sears. Indeed life held new promises for Mom and me; however, the devastation from my first day of eighth grade was a hindrance that would be hard to overcome.
I was nervous about going to a different school with new classmates, but excited about living in my new home in such a great neighborhood. I was proud to say I lived at 19815 Merryhill Street, and not the run down apartment my mother and I jokingly referred to as “Sewer City. ” Sporting my new outfit and my head held high, 1 proudly walked towards the bus stop. When I arrived there all the kids just stared at me. I thought to myself, “Okay, no problem, this is normal. I’m just the new kid, and they are wondering who I am. Immediately, I noticed one girl in particular, Marianne, the most popular girl in the neighborhood.
She began whispering to all the kids at the bus stop, and soon everyone was laughing and pointing at me. “Fatty bucktooth! Fatty bucktooth! ” they began to chant in unison. At that very moment, I thought I was going to die. I asked myself,” How could they do this to me? ” Suddenly my confidence was shattered, my head had dropped down, and all i wanted to do was go home. The chanting continued for what seemed like a lifetime, until finally the bus came.
After everyone else had got on board, I reluctantly entered the bus. I began to look for a seat, but Marianne had told everyone not to let me sit down. As I came to each row I would ask, “Can I sit here? ” They would either say, “No”, or they would just scoot over so there was no room for me. I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes, as I continued to search for a seat. Finally, the bus driver discovered what was happening, and forced a child to make room for me to sit down. That five minute bus ride was the longest, most humiliating experience I had ever endured at that point in my life.
From that day on, I never rode the bus again. Instead, I would get up extra early, and walk all the way to school just to avoid the name calling and utter cruelty of those children, the children in the neighborhood of my wonderful new home Remembering the painful experience of that day at the bus stop, never again did I look at someone who was less fortunate or different physically and form an opinion based on his or her outward appearance. Although I feel I have always been empathetic, that morning strengthened my ability to identify and relate to others.
I became constantly aware of the impact my behavior could have on another individual. People often do not give someone a chance because of their physical differences, and I cannot express enough how disappointing that is. Approximately a year after this incident, I created a friendship with a girl that most kids either teased or stared at. My new friend, Lurenda, had rheumatoid arthritis in every joint in her body, and it was apparent by her physical appearance. Most of her joints had already begun to show the progressive signs of this vicious disease, and just walking was difficult for her.
She was bright, funny, warm-hearted, and more importantly, a genuine friend. Lurenda has been my closest and dearest friend for over twenty-five years now, and I feel extremely fortunate to have her in my life. Had those other children been less judgmental, perhaps they could have been blessed with such a great friend. Certainly, in a perfect world people would be caring and considerate of other’s feelings. The blueprint of an individual’s ethical standards would automatically include empathy to the highest degree. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
The best we can hope for is that somewhere along the journey we will endure experiences, of both positive and negative influence, that will shape our moral beliefs into something we can be proud of. I feel fortunate to have endured my own hard times with such a generously loving and supportive mother. She was a pillar of strength, while our comfortable life crumbled around us. As for the children who chose to ridicule that overweight and bucktoothed girl, I would thank them today. Of course, I thought my world would never be the same again after that morning, but I survived.
Ironically, their negative influence promoted the most endearing quality of my ethical foundation, empathy. Perhaps for some people the ability to be empathetic is second nature. For others, nature may have to run its course, and teach the art of humanity through painful experience. I have often wondered about those children at the bus stop. Although graciously accepted that morning so long ago, would that always be the case? When would life present them with their own “bus stop”? When would they remember that overweight, bucktoothed girl, and regret their behavior? Sadly enough, maybe they never would.