A Little Empathy, Please
Empathy: the experiencing as one’s own the feelings of another (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When I was a young man just out of college I used to hit the town on Saturday nights with my buddies. These guys liked going out late, so we would usually close some bar at 4 a.m. and then head down to Wo Hop on Mott Street in Chinatown, which was open 24/7. We would arrive at about 4:30 and believe it or not, there would inevitably be a line up the stairs and down the block. So we’d wait. After a while we’d get to the landing at the bottom of the stairs from where we could see into the small, cramped restaurant. Many times there would be people sitting at a table hanging out. It was clear they had finished eating and were now just bullshitting around, maybe smoking a cigarette (you could do that then). And I would be indignant. I didn’t expect anyone to wolf down their food just because I wanted a table. But c’mon; you’re done eating, you know there’s a line, so show some consideration! Eventually they would leave and I would finally get to sit down. And the first thing I would say to myself, the minute my butt hit the chair, was “I’m going to sit here as long as I want”. My perspective had changed from waiting person to dining person, and so my sense of right and wrong had gone right along with it. But at least I had sufficient self-awareness to realize that this was happening. And while I wouldn’t rush through my meal, I also wouldn’t linger, although I must admit that might have had something to do with the fact that at this point it was past 5 in the morning and I was ready to go home.
All of the above is by way of prelude to my discussion of a recent incident that received some play in the media. Representative Paul Ryan held a Town Hall style meeting where he was confronted by a gentleman named Jeff Jeans. Mr. Jeans is a Republican who had opposed the Affordable Care Act when it was first signed into law, but that changed when he was diagnosed with cancer. He told Rep. Ryan that considering his pre-existing condition, without the ACA he would never have been able to purchase the insurance that paid for the medical care that saved his life. Much of the reporting about this incident understandably focused on Ryan’s mealy-mouthed response to Mr. Jeans (“We’ll replace it with something better”, without any indication of what that something might be). But I want to look at this from a different perspective.
Mr. Jeans seems like a decent sort, and I salute his willingness to speak truth to power to Ryan. Also, I have no reason to doubt that he wants the ACA preserved in order to help others who find themselves in his situation, and not just himself. But why was he against the ACA before he needed it to stay alive? He seems reasonable erudite and well-informed, so he must have known that the ACA provided access to health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions before he himself had a pre-existing condition. And yet he didn’t care. Not until he found out for himself what it’s like to have a life-threatening condition with no access to affordable health insurance. I am tired of this. It should be possible to picture oneself in someone else’s shoes without having to actually walk in those shoes. We should be able to understand where the other fellow is coming from without having to actually experience the same things he has. It’s called empathy. You can look it up.