The death of empathy and kindness


We were on our way back from a blogging event yesterday when an elderly chap pushed past (I was holding the hand of our four year old at the time) with his wheelie suitcase and then stopped abruptly right in front of us to collapse the handle and labour slowly up the stairs. It was sort of a perambulatory version of those morons who see you coming and pull out of the supermarket car park at speed but only accelerate to 20 miles an hour. I got cross but my wife’s response was interesting and made me think. She basically said a few months ago she made peace with the fact that pretty much everybody has no thought for others, no empathy or compassion and she wasn’t going to get cross or react to it because she was expecting people to behave badly. 

This was shocking to hear but the more I think about it, the truer it seems to me. Depressingly so in fact. From rants in the national press over children being children on trains, to queue jumping and place holding* in supermarkets, on to coughing and sneezing without covering your mouth, littering and spitting on the pavement, everybody seems to be doing what suits them and damn the rest of society.

In a two and a half hour standing journey to Hammersmith by train yesterday, only one person offered the lad a seat, and English wasn’t his first language. He didn’t look saintly or even particularly kind, he just looked like a bloke who saw a little boy in a crush of adults and wanted to do the right thing. Bless him because nobody else did and even pregnant women can’t get people to shift from the priority seats nowadays.

I hope our kids won’t grow up like this. I know our oldest won’t, he told me recently he didn’t want to go in to London any more. I happen to know that Forbidden Planet is one of his favourite places on earth, so I tried to get to the bottom of it. Turns out seeing all the poor homeless people on the streets really upsets him because they have so little. He’s only 9 and he has more love for others in him than 90% of the adults I come across.

How can we fix our broken society? How can we get people to think about others? I suppose we can start ourselves and hope that we’re an example to others. I’m not going to write a long altruistic list of great stuff I’ve done to inspire others, I think the idea of doing something quiet that can’t get you recognition or publicity is better than making a big show. I always struggle whether I’m doing good out of compassion or the desire to be seen doing good. Perhaps I’m an over thinker? Who knows but something needs to change.


*middle aged man with 3 items in the checkout queue. Five minutes later his wife and massive trolley appear and make their way to join him, making the queue you joined the worst and slowest queue you could have possibly ever joined.