Empathy Intervention – Austin Gnecco

At the beginning of last year there was a new student that came to my high school. She was from New Mexico, and to my friends and I who had grown up in the SF Bay Area all of our lives, had a very different way of life. To be honest my friends and I never really thought much of it. She and the rest of us found it fun to compare our different traditions and how we approached different topics in the Bay Area vs Rural New Mexico and got a good laugh out of a difference every once in a while. But one day she mentioned something to us that we all found very concerning: She would drive to and from her work despite the fact that she was not an insured driver (which should it not be obvious, is very much illegal). We immediately jumped on this comment and over the next few days demanded that she find some way to become a member on her parent’s insurance so that she would not be breaking the law.

Our concern stemmed from a place of concern for her- we did not want her to get arrested for driving uninsured or otherwise get into trouble that would mess up the college future that she continually talked about- but after a couple of days I realized that it was not a very empathetic response to the situation that she was in. Moving from New Mexico, the cost of living in the bay area was much higher than anything that she had dealt with before, and her family had been struggling financially since they arrived. It occurred to me that the extra $2-3k dollars that insurance costs for a teen yearly was not an easy bill for them to foot. On top of that, her prior method of transportation that she used to get to and from work, her bike, had been ruined when she had been hit by a car a few weeks before while biking to work- fortunately she was alright.

After thinking about it, I realized that while I had meant well by my demands that she get insurance, they did not come from a place of empathy given the situation that she was in. Instead some of us volunteered to give her rides to and from work until she was later eventually able to get car insurance. While I originally saw someone who was recklessly endangering themselves and others for selfish interests, I needed to look from her view to see that she was trying her best to manage a job, her finances, school and a now-broken bike. It was an experience that taught me the importance of empathy and looking at a situation through another person’s eyes.

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