Thank you to the many people who read my post describing how a stranger at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport nearly assaulted me. Your empathetic reactions were overwhelming.
I didn’t expect bystanders to put themselves in physical danger and challenge the angry individual who threatened me. But they might have contacted airport security or called a nearby Delta agent to diffuse the situation. After the incident, I expected someone to say, “That must have been an awful experience. I’m sorry that it happened.” Instead, there was stone silence. I was alone in a crowd.
Many people shared their recent personal experiences of being threatened or reading stories where bystanders stood by a harrowing event. One reader wrote, “Today I read that a young man lost his life crossing the street I live on and he laid there dead for 25 minutes before the authorities were called, and people just drove around him and didn’t help him or stop and get out. I really don’t understand what this world is coming to. People are so oblivious and uncaring these days.”
Compared with the stories that others shared with me and the injustices that people of color and women who are verbally and physically abused experience publicly, my incident was harmless. Still, the reaction of so many online readers left me with a question:
If we are empowered to make the world more caring, what is stopping us?
I’ve been thinking about this question considerably since my aunt, Selma Weinberg, of blessed memory, passed away about a week ago. I spoke with my cousins separately in preparation for her eulogy. Still, they responded as one about my aunt’s beautiful trait of seeking opportunities to speak a kind word to a stranger: a clerk in a store, a person next to her while waiting on line, a caregiver – every human being was worthy of kind attention. Some people seek opportunities to criticize, but my aunt searched for chances to compliment.
After my airport incident, I looked at the photo that my editor selected for my new book, Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide. When I was verbally threatened, I felt as if the people in the book cover photo had walked off the page and onto the line around me. Everyone looked down and away into their devices, instead of looking up and making eye contact with me. When there’s no eye contact, there’s no empathy. Many of us suffer from social in-app-titude™. We’re agile with our thumbs but clumsy in offering gestures of kindness because we use our screens as shields from human contact.
Why are we afraid to risk breaking our self-imposed silence when we’re in situations that should call forth basic decency? Have we forgotten so quickly how a little bit of kindness makes the world in which we live more human? I don’t believe that we have, but we will if we refuse to acknowledge our ability to shape the kind of world that we desire to have. It doesn’t take an act of Congress to be kind, and we can’t wait for someone else to take the lead anymore. To my fellow risk-takers, Will you step up your game? To those who want to be proactive and offer some caring, practice with an acquaintance instead of a total stranger. Remember, we live in a world that we deserve. And we deserve much better.