(Editor's note: Unlike past recessions, the current downturn has taken a significant toll on sectors of the economy virtually unscathed by earlier economic crises. This is the fifth in a series on one family's struggle.)
SKOKIE, Ill., May 18 (UPI) -- Several weeks ago, we had an unusual experience a friend declared was a visit from angels: Two ultra-Orthodox men came by, asking for money for a wedding.
Sadly, we explained why we couldn't contribute: We're on the brink of bankruptcy and foreclosure because my husband was laid off in December.
After they left, I abruptly realized: I'm a hypocrite. My mind reeled at the very thought.
At that moment, I reflected on myself as a teacher. I teach empathy. Students' eye-rolling over what I call "The Big E" becomes less frequent as they grasp it. Self-absorbed, hormone-driven proto-adults have a startling capacity for stepping into the shoes of another and responding accordingly -- it simply must be demonstrated for them. Then they run with it.
I have a teacher's soul and maintain it's my duty to encourage students to discover the best ways they can repair the world. They learn the greatest good anyone can do to fix our world is to be genuinely kind to one another. They come to embrace and internalize the imperative: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
To love another thus, we must be empathic -- able to put ourselves in his place. How do we learn his mind, his heart? We have at our disposal the published thoughts and feelings of the world's profoundest literary artists. All authors have in common one factor: they provide their perspective on the universal human condition. By studying a highly-diverse canon of literature, we can conceptualize what's common to the mind and heart of virtually every human being -- this is why I became an English teacher.
Such an informed conceptualization, more than any other single factor, allows us to put ourselves in another's place and therefore to love (respect) other people the way we presumably do ourselves. If all people studied and practiced empathy, could there be any strife left in the world?
Fred and I have a daughter marrying this summer; where was my empathy? How dare I teach empathy and not embody it myself?
I shared the upshot of my thoughts with Fred, who immediately ran down the street to give the father of the bride a little money. It doesn't matter whether their stated purpose was legitimate; they wanted help. Perhaps we're naive thinking no one goes begging on a cynical mission.
One friend said the men should have planned a less-extravagant wedding. Ordinarily, I might have agreed. These days, though, I'm not so quick to judge others. Couldn't someone savvier find fault with how we handled our personal finances? We did everything in good faith, but who knows if we couldn't have prevented disaster along the way.
We discovered later the men hadn't stopped at neighboring houses, although my friend next door saw them from her window.
I hope we passed the test.