Archive for Thursday, January 14, 2010

Helping other people a product of genetics

January 14, 2010

This is always funny when it is happening to someone else. I had taken down most of the holiday decorations and was packing up a gift to send to my niece, who has a birthday in January. I decided to take a break.

I pulled my Great Aunt Lib’s rocking chair next to a window overlooking the street where I am staying for the holiday. The snow has fallen and been swept into deep drifts by a hurling wind. The roads are passable, though why anyone would want to drive is beyond me. I am content to be cocooned in with a good book and hot chocolate.

I am thinking about the snow when I notice a small car pulling out of a driveway in a vain attempt to do so without plowing. The car barrels backward and immediately lands on one of those notorious banks that the snow plows are so fond of leaving. For a while the driver sits there, spinning the wheels of the car, spitting snow this way and that.

A hiker coming over the hill takes notice and decides to help. She is a small hiker, with a big backpack. Together they work, rocking the car, spinning the wheels.

They get nowhere, except deeper into the snow bank.

They walk around the car, knee deep in snow, gesturing and nodding. She gets in the car; he pushes. She rocks back and forth as she is apparently shifting gears; he leans, head down, knees locked, and shoves. No progress is being made.

Teenage boys tromp by, without even a glance. They are tall, muscular appearing, fully capable young men. A friend asks me later at what age people begin to realize that they can be helpful to others. I say that I have seen three-year-olds who want to be very helpful. I currently believe, however, that empathy is genetic — either we are born with it and it develops or it doesn’t.

The teenagers tromp on by.

The driver and his helpful hiker part ways and then the driver disappears and comes back with a shovel. He looks at his watch, takes out his cell phone, makes a call, checks his watch again and begins digging.

For 45 minutes, he digs, throwing snow in front of the car, which he later removes in order to get the car back in the driveway. I watch him dig the car out and later drive away with snow piled on top of the car, where he has pitched it, as he was flinging shovels of snow this way and that.

I wonder what he was thinking. Why didn’t he stop the teenagers and ask for help? Why hadn’t someone, other than the lone hiker, offered to help? Why the story doesn’t seem so funny in the retelling? Was this a story about empathy or common sense? Maybe both.

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