The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sympathy, without action?

Running from behind for the bus as I have so often run for buses before: traffic signal just against me, sprinting the separating distance against the maybe, counting down the distance in bus-lengths of 12 metres each, five, four, shouting to try to gain the driver's attention, knowing I could not possibly be visible in his mirrors and unable to manoeuvre so I would be.

She was walking toward me, on my side of the road, and as she was in front of the bus she could see both me and it clearly. More importantly, the bus driver could clearly see her, as he could not see me.

She watched me with sympathy, and lifted not a finger to help.

The bus, having finished loading, pulled away.

"Happens all the time," she tells me mournfully, with feeling and intention of kindness -- but I cut her off, not angrily (too used to missing buses to be angry), but matter-of-factly: "Couldn't you have waved at him? He saw you."

Shock. Maybe she was insulted as well, I don't know. Clearly she had never even considered it. It took her a couple of moments: "You are asking me?" And then, when it was clear that I was, we continued each on our way without a single further word, I already thinking about the next thing the day held for me, she -- I don't know.

In that moment, I had transformed the non-action from a quiet act of fellow human being empathy, to well, what are you going to do about it?

Not a responsibility for the other I had placed on her, but an awareness that sympathy by itself is useless: that there was something she could have done, a very easy intervention that would have cost her nothing and would have worked -- and because it was not something which would have there-and-then benefitted her (but not because she had other things on her mind! for she had been watching me, and her first words showed that her mind was on my situation), it had never even entered her radar.

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