Yesterday, a friend and I noticed some Cub Scouts selling popcorn at the exit of our local grocery store. My friend said to me, “I’m so tired of all these kids trying to sell me something every time I leave the store.”
I said, “Well sure, but weren’t you ever a Cub Scout, Webelow, Boy Scout or Indian guide? Haven’t your daughters ever been a Brownie or a Girl Scout and had to sell Girl Scout cookies?”??He said, matter-of-factly, “Nope.”
My friend saw this as an intrusion into his life and his schedule. A nuisance, really. After all, he was just trying to pick up a few groceries for his family that evening. And like most guys, he probably just wanted to get in the store, get what he needs, and get out.
But I had a different reaction. I couldn’t help remembering when I was a Cub Scout in upstate New York. And just like that, I was connected to the boys in this Cub Scout group. Empathy had kicked in.
So, when they asked if I wanted to buy some popcorn, I didn’t think twice. I enthusiastically said, “What can I get for 20 bucks!?”
As I walked away with my popcorn,I turned back to my friend and said, “You know, empathy is the best sales person. I don’t really need anymore microwave popcorn… much less $20 worth. But I can empathize with that Cub Scout having to stand outside in the hot sun in the 94 degree Florida sunshine. That kid has a purpose and that money going to make this a better community. I’m not buying popcorn as much as I’m buying the fact that I had to stand there and do that same job when I was a kid.”
This is why, I believe, that the very best doctor, nurse or caregiver for you is the person who’s had your exact same disease before and has lived through it. So much so that they wanted to dedicate the rest of their life to help people get through it as well as someone helped them get through it.
A recent article in the Washington Post told the story of a doctor who lost her mother years ago when she was just a teenager. The one thing she says she wishes most is if the doctors back then had just been upfront with her. It’s a regret and a pain she carries with her to this day. She’s transformed that pain into profound empathy for her patients today.
Empathy doesn’t necessarily have to be about a shared experience. It just requires a deeper dive into the human condition so one person can say to another, I hear you. I see you. I understand. Empathy is a great salesperson, but I think empathy is also the best care giver.