“Compassion, Empathy and Human Dignity”

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 10/4/2010

The heart and soul of Server Not Servant are found in the chapter, Human-to-Human Service and Civility. Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book:

As I immersed myself in this book, I soon realized that beyond the customer-server relationship, my mission is really to promote civility, common courtesy and compassion in all walks of life. That explains the sub-title, A Case for Human-to-Human Service and Civility, which is about co-existing, communicating with and responding to fellow human beings. We have an obligation and responsibility to be responsive to each other, and take care of each other every day, as we do during and after extraordinary circumstances that put life in perspective. 

One of those extraordinary, and deeply troubling tragedies was the recent suicide of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi. According to RU’s Daily Targum, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after learning that his roommate and a friend allegedly recorded and posted an intimate encounter between the freshman Clementi and another male.

USA Today reported that Tyler Clementi’s family issued the following statement through their attorney:

We are grateful that our son’s body has now been recovered. Funeral services will be private. Needless to say, public attention has been intense. We ask that our request for privacy in this painful time continue to be respected.

The outpouring of emotion and support from our friends, community and family — and from people across the country — has been humbling and deeply moving. We thank each of you from the bottom of our hearts.

We appreciate the continuing diligent efforts of people in law enforcement. We sincerely thank them and members of the media for respecting our privacy.

We understand that our family’s personal tragedy presents important legal issues for the country as well as for us. Regardless of legal outcomes, our hope is that our family’s personal tragedy will serve as a call for compassion, empathy and human dignity.

It is absolutely horrific to invade a fellow student’s privacy in such a cruel manner, and much worse, to broadcast it on the Internet. It is truly unconscionable, and yet we know that cyberbullying threatens human civility and dignity on campuses, in workplaces and even in middle schools.

In Sunday’s New York Times, John Schwartz writes, Teenagers “think that because they can do it, that makes it right,” said Nancy E. Willard, a lawyer and founder of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. Impulsiveness, immaturity and immense publishing power can be a dangerous mix, she said.

I would add blatant stupidity and ignorance to the deadly equation.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to inclusion, empathy for and acceptance of anyone who is “different” than we are. “I have friends who are gay” doesn’t mean we know what it’s like to be gay, or to be keeping a secret from your family and everyone you know. We all harbor insecurities, vulnerabilities and differences, some more subtle than others. Beyond tolerance, we should be modeling and teaching inclusion.

This moving video by Ellen Degeneres has been widely circulated. Please take a moment to watch it if you haven’t seen it.

The following message accompanied Ellen’s post on facebook:

I just can’t be silent about this. I hope you won’t either.

I won’t be silent about this heartless breech of trust and Human-to-Human Civility, and I hope everyone who reads this blog won’t either.

7 Responses to ““Compassion, Empathy and Human Dignity””

  1. Dr. Hank says:

    I’ve spent the last 10 years studying ways in which we can “build”
    and create peaceful schools and neighborhoods – sanctuary’s of respect. Even taught a graduate course for 4 years in Alaska and New York – statewide via distance delivery.

    Only sharing this ’cause some of us have seen this bullying behavior unfold since 1970′s for children and youth with disabilities. Targets are selected for perceived vulnerability and bullies always travel/act in pairs or groups…rarely 1:1 – not that it matters.

    Some goals in my course are to teach “no bystanders,” ways to bring students together so they (we) can appreciate our shared humanity, strategies to build and enhance relationships, ways to build a sense of community and “neighborhood,” etc.

    Parents and family involvement is critical…if an abuser is under 18, then parents/family bear consequences/correction, too. All on board.

    I’ve studied all schools shooters…one common thread – disconnected from “home” and “community.” We need a full-court- press in our neighborhoods…”we are our brothers’/sister’s keeper!”

    Language reflects values, so “gay” and “retard” as put-downs are unacceptable…language and behaviors are linked. We need to step-up and speak-out when “disrespect” raises it’s ugly head.

    Dr. Hank
    Creating Peaceful Schools
    Stevens Point, Wisconsin

  2. P macDougall says:

    The heinous acts of the two Rutgers students should be seen for exactly what they are.
    An arsonist who sets fire to a building, and runs away is held on murder charges if death is involved, no?
    I believe that this case could be compared to cutting the break lines on an automobile, and watching the vehicle plummet off a bridge.
    Please be sure that these actions were not born out of naivety, or a silly college prank gone wrong. This was well thought out plan to humiliate and ostracize this young man.
    What was the ultimate goal here? Was it to disgrace Tyler Clementi? Was it a need to make him into a social pariah? For what gain, and on who’s part?
    Motive is key here. Willful intention to drag an innocent young man to his knees and destroy him in the eyes of his peers and family. A second video was planned, as we know. There we no regrets. Predators feast on the vulnerable, waiting for the right moment to strike it’s prey in the softest spot when least expected.
    The straight forward facts that led to the death of Tyler Clementi need to be seen up close and simple. There are two people who will be brought up on trial for this. Please do not ignore the blood on their hands.

  3. Kim M says:

    This story is heartbreaking. I hope that Tyler’s death helps people recognize that there are consequences to every action. And to think and rethink how actions may affect someone else’s life.

    For people to have such great access to other people’s lives, frailties and information via social networking is not a substitute for making friends. I see many young adults as observers not participants in a relationship and they don’t know what privacy is. (Though I know quite a few adults who are guilty of the same thing). As Dr. Hank so eloquently put, we need to “build the sense of community and neighborhood” which is not the same thing as having 219 “friends” on Facebook.

    My kids at 17 and 15 do not have texting. As a parent, I have told them that when they are adults and learn how to communicate effectively and with emotion then they can get their own texting. Two word “sentences” and emoticons are not communicating. If you can imagine, I actually encourage them to use the telephone!

    I wonder if some young adults do not know how to respond or take into consideration another person’s feelings because many times they don’t see it first hand. Should these students be held accountable and responsible? Absolutely! Is the internet and technology the Root of All Evil? No, of course not. But as with everything, balance is important. And there is no substitution for Human to Human contact.

  4. Certain core inner elements are what separate us from beasts. The question is, are these core emotions of compassion, empathy and human dignity something that is taught or inherited? The making of a character is both complex and yet can also be rather simple. Does one “anyone” understand the difference between right and wrong? Do they have an inner voice of concious? Do they possess the strength to override hate and malice? I have witnessed beasts that have more compassion than these cyber bully’s or rather more appropriate ‘cowards’. This didn’t just happen. It is a form of Godlessness to be sure. Parents! All parents must stand accountable for spawning such bad seeds. The most appropriate law in bringing such trash to justice is to also charge their “sleeping” parents as accomplices, because surely they played a hand in not doing their job right!

  5. susan says:

    It may be trite, it may be overused, it may be a cliche, but the saying, ” live and let live” will always be, in my opinion, an attitude we should all strive to adopt into our own lives. Who are we to judge or to say how one person should live? Why can’t some people replace contempt with compassion? I work for an airline. A majority of my friends are gay. And I love them all. But I won’t, for one minute, pretend to know what it’s like to check in an obviously homophobic business man who won’t even make eye contact with them. Or how it feels to be openly gay at work and then go home only to have to hide it from someone in the family. I won’t pretend to know. Instead, I will continue to love them for who they are, and hope one day it will be just a little easier for them. My prayers to the Clementi family and to all the others who have gone through similar situations and just never had their story told.

  6. CD Berkeley says:

    Such an important topic. I’m glad it’s getting open, honest airtime. These comments are great, and highlight many of the challenges in trying to discuss it. Who is accountable? What drives bullying? How do you effectively address it? The truth is we all are accountable, we all drive it (in some way, even by tolerating it), and we all need to start addressing it. The comments so far speak to how ‘doing your part’ – whether it’s as a teacher, parent, co-worker or fellow human being – can have such a huge impact on someone. I teach Catholic religious school to kindergarteners, and we were talking about how we’re each different. One girl, Grace, mentioned how she can’t eat certain foods because she’s allergic, which fostered this whole discussion about what allergies are, what happens, is it bad, is something wrong with you, etc. As kids tend to do, they quickly built on Grace’s sharing, bouncing between questions (‘will you die?’) and declarations (‘i don’t read as well as well as Jackson’) about their differences. Kids don’t know whether these differences are good or bad; they look to us – ‘grown ups’ – for those signals. I like to think by encouraging them to asks their questions and make their declarations, while asking and sharing my own, that I was helping them appreciate that differences make us unique – not scary, or reason for ridicule, or something to be ashamed of. I only have them for an hour a week so who knows if I’m right but I do know that every kid spoke up, talked to each other, and no one was crying or embarrassed or afraid. If 5 and 6 year olds can behave that way, shouldn’t we – the ‘grown ups’ – be able to?

  7. Dr. Hank says:

    CD, I agree on all counts. Your contribution to the solution is so significant…creating learning opportunities (for children) designed to help them appreciate human uniqueness, especially birth-10 when the brain is so pliable and “developmentally plastic (creation of new neurological-cognitive pathways and connections).” I know you know this, just wanted to comment and share my appreciation for the work you do.

    “The sooner the better!”

    Dr. Hank

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