Video Killed the Empathy Star

Photos taken by Dawn Holler @morningsongphotos

A couple days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and a specific video kept popping up. It was a local video of a man looking around sheepishly and then pulling down his pants and defecating into a drain on a public street in broad daylight. The responses were what you might expect: disgust, laughter, mocking, indignation. People watched this man who was secretly videotaped and declared all the judgments about why he isn’t a valued member of society, while I sat at my phone with tears in my eyes, wondering how he came to this place.

I have often reminded my own kids that when they judge someone who seems like society’s least, they need to remember that the person was once a child, playing, laughing, with dreams and hopes. We do not know their journey. And it’s unfair for us to judge why they are where they are today.

Tonight, a new thought entered my brain. What if we could take five infants and choose their journeys for them? Five infants, born full-term with no medical issues, all on “equal” ground? Where would they end up as adults with the life scenarios assigned to them?

So, as you read the multiple choices, you can get to choose which baby gets which scenario. Let’s give them the top five baby names right now in the US (according to Good Housekeeping): Emma, Liam, Olivia, Noah and Ava, to help you put a name with each scenario you choose.

First, we get to choose their family:

  1. Which child is born into a 2-parent home where they are an only child and the apple of their parent’s eyes, only to have their parents divorce when they’re 10 and spend the next 8 years, using that child as a pawn to get back at the other parent?
  2. Which child is born into a single-parent home, whose sole parent works 2 jobs, 16 hours a day to make ends meet and leaves the child to take care of all of their future siblings?
  3. Which child is born into the foster system because their parents are unable to care for them, thus hopping from temporary home to temporary home, never feeling a sense of belonging?
  4. Which child gets an abusive parent, who takes out all of their hurt and pain on the child by ridiculing them and demeaning them on a daily basis and physically abusing them on a weekly basis?
  5. Which child is born into a home where they have to watch their parents succumb to addiction and slowly lose all they have, including their ability to parent?

Next, we get to choose their home:

  1. Which child lives on the street, hopping from shelter to shelter? Sleeping in covered slides and picking through garbage for their meals?
  2. Which child lives on a huge farm with all of their family, only one day to be told they have to leave everything behind and go to a safe country in order to live? Their home then becomes a camp of thousands of temporary structures, overcrowded, unsanitary and empty of any of their personal meaning-filled belongings.
  3. Which child lives in multiple dwellings over the years, including friends homes and strangers homes as the family seeks to make ends meet and continues to fail, always feeling unwelcome and like a burden?
  4. Who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with their parents, five other siblings, rats and cockroaches and has to take turns staying up at night to keep the vermin away?
  5. Who lives in a home that is a hoarder’s home, without space to sleep or keep their stuff, never able to let anyone else in due to the shame?

Finally, let’s choose that out-of-nowhere and not-the-family’s fault trauma

  1. Which child loses their sole loving parent to a car crash?
  2. Which child has the additional challenge of ADHD or Depression or Anxiety?
  3. Which child feels like the body they were given at birth is wrong?
  4. Which child gets thrown into a new country, not knowing the language or customs but is expected to attend school and perform without outbursts or problems?
  5. Which child gets raped repeatedly by a trusted neighbor?

None of these experiences guarantee that someone is going to grow up and struggle. But as you picked multiple traumatic events for each child, the odds grew that they would struggle, and not because the children did anything wrong. Children can’t choose the environment they grow up in. And children who grow up with traumatic events or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) may end up as adults living lives that we might say “I’d never choose that,” or “I’d never let that happen or get that out of control.” But these early traumas, that are NOT their choices, create health and social problems that can last their entire lives. If we did not experience those exact same scenarios, we have no right saying “I would never…”

And that’s just it. We don’t know everyone’s stories. We don’t know what trauma they’ve been through or the pain they’ve suffered. What we see as a complete failure as a member of society, might just be someone who has overcome so much, they should be given a medal of honor. If only we could look at the world through the lense of another, I think we’d be a lot more grace-filled and kind. I think we’d reach out to help, instead of standing on the sidelines, mocking while their pain is lived out loud.