Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others
I have to confess, I am a bit of a ponderer, and often find myself curled up in a favourite nook, contemplating about… well, anything! It could be as mundane as what book to read next, or as heavy as what decides the person we fall in love with, or some such matter.
On one such ‘think-fest’, I began to wonder about altruism, sympathy, compassion, and how such sentiments developed in us.
We had gone out that day, and had been witness to a truly pathetic sight. As we were waiting at the signal at a junction, below a flyover, my Mum noticed someone below the flyover.
It was an old woman, dressed in rags, with unkempt hair that is typical of indigents. She was sitting underneath the flyover, not quite clear of the junction, and was in some danger of being run over. Her clothes, if they could be called so, since they just barely fulfilled the definition, were in such a bad state that quite a lot of her was exposed to the elements. She also had a vacant look on her face that suggested at senility. There was a traffic policeman posted nearby, but he payed her no notice.
My Mum is a social worker, and she just couldn’t digest that sight.
“I’m going to go talk to her, and find out what’s the matter”, she said, her hand hovering over the door handle.
Just then, the signal turned green, and we had to move. But my mother is not one to be deterred from a purpose, and she told my father to stop by the side of the road. “Go around, take a U turn, and come pick me up.”
And she strode off.
When she got back in about 10 minutes later (we had followed her instructions and come back for her), she told us about the woman. The woman was unable to communicate intelligibly, so my mother had turned to the policeman for some assistance. Apparently, the lady had just turned up that day suddenly, and despite being told to clear out repeatedly, she did not listen. The policeman had given up and left her to her own devices. “She is not my business, madam. She has probably been cast away by her family. They must also me poor, and unable to care for her.”
Shocked at the policeman’s indifference, my Mum chastised him roundly. Then, with his help, she located a helpline for such abandoned people. She called them up, and recited the whereabouts of the lady. Only once they had promised to end one of their personnel over immediately, did my mother leave the place.
It was this incident that got me pondering about our more humane sentiments, compassion and altruism in particular.