Empathy? Kindness? Say, what?

His comment raised the hackles on the back of my neck and my thoughts turned dark. I visualized the bold headline: “Author Attacks Book-Signing Attendee!” With a slight shiver, I decided it best to continue smiling, nodding and change the subject at the earliest possible moment.

People had begun wending their way toward a seat in the outdoor pavilion, the event nearly ready to commence. An elderly gentleman accompanied by his wife most likely wished himself home watching a baseball game on T.V.  I’d already listened to him insult her earlier in a condescending tone of voice when she asked him a question.  I watched out of the corner of my eye as he sat left of center in the third row. Chatting with others, he heard me mention my home town.

“You’re from there? I lived in that town for a time. Used to go down to the Main Street Bar and talk to the bar patrons. They didn’t like me much,” he trailed off.

“Oh?” I turned my attention toward him.

“Yeah, I used to tell ‘em that the government made a mistake. They shoulda given their whole godforsaken eastern part of the state to the Injuns,” he guffawed.

This statement shouted wrong to me on so many levels. I stared at him, speechless, wondering if I dare speak my mind. In the end, politeness reigned and we moved on. The conversation continues to haunt me, though, because it encompasses a reprehensible thought process increasingly prevalent in our new world of lies, fake news and trolls.

Honestly, I really never thought about attacking him physically or verbally. I did wish for the ability to show him a different way of thinking, however. Seemingly set in his ways and beliefs, I doubted anything I might say would impact eighty years of indoctrination to another mindset.

Before “white men” came west, indigenous people lived and died, traveling through the land, realizing they could no more own the land than they could own the sun or moon. How on earth did white men decide they owned the land and force the indigenous people, living there long before the white person, onto reservations? Secondly, forced to live in specified places during that time in our history, why weren’t they given the best land?  This older man’s audacity to suggest the government should have given them the so-called “worst” land on which to live infuriates me.

Has mankind (notice I did not say womankind) ever had the decency to see beyond the end of their own bulbous nose? By all accounts, we’ve become even more intolerant in the past couple of years. Empathy and kindness appear to be endangered traits. Is it possible to stop this downward slide into a country fueled primarily by anger, negativity and hate? I sure hope so. My call to action: Starting this moment, consider if, in your world, you practice kindness and empathy. I choose to believe it’s contagious.