The LineCategory: General   Dec 31st 2013  01:08PM   2

Recently I saw a new client who turned out to be one of the most empathetic people I've ever met, his capacity for concern and compassion backed by fierce determination to champion the underprivileged. He makes the world a better place and earns a great living doing it. We had a fabulous date in stark contrast to one I had shortly afterward.

Over lunch with a new-ish client, who may just be one of the least empathetic I've ever met, I was reminded why I don't talk politics with people who can't (or won't) factor the complex layers of the human condition into their arguments. Empathetic people (by definition) can get inside an issue's emotional component and find creative solutions that target the heart of the matter. Empathetic people create win-wins. Non-empathetic people only see one side—theirs—and cannot truly debate, only lecture. 

I don't need lectures. I have empathy and experience. I see all sides because I've lived them. I was raised solidly middle class but before I left home my family lost everything and didn't rebound for many years. I went to college on scholarships and grants, and then immediately met the (extremely successful) man I almost married. I spent much of my twenties living in a million dollar home, traveling first class around the world. My first semester of college I was twice reduced to stealing groceries. A few years later I was taking limos to the grocery store. When it was over I went to work, my income fluctuating wildly for the next 15 years. 

My current friends are personal trainers, massage therapists, artists, musicians, actors, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, techies, etc. I socialize with people from every walk of life, from the temporarily unemployed to wealthy retirees. Last year a favorite patron gave me a lot of money to donate to charity. Another client heard what I was doing with it and pitched in no small amount. This year a third client is adding to the pot. By "adopting a classroom" we've enabled 10 teachers in disadvantaged school systems to supply students with everything from computers to pencils. 

PENCILS.

At times in the past I've struggled mightily. I have never in my life been without a pencil. 

I am unfairly privileged. I'm white, thin, pretty, and, well-spoken. I'm also smart and strong and wouldn't be where I am otherwise, but no one should have to live in squalor for the "crime" of being average, slow, weak, or born into poverty. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, and it's time the rest of us learned to check our privilege.

This client I mentioned who lacks empathy argued that $5 is a fair wage for an honest hour of human labor. He is incorrect. I'd go so far as to say he not only lacks empathy but the capacity for critical thinking (based on numerous conversations, not just that one). I'm not going to reiterate too much here, suffice it to say there is a line and $5/hour is on the wrong side of it.

A job requiring human labor is a job that requires wages to sustain human life. Minimum wage in the 1960s adjusted for today's dollars would be over $17/hour (Salon.com has a great post on this). In modern America $5/hr does not sustain life in any acceptable form. If it did, my taxes wouldn't go to welfare, nor would I be giving thousands of dollars a year to students whose parents are working for something close to $5 a fucking hour.

My clients run the gamut from right to left but even my diehard Republicans are compassionate, charitable, and aware of their advantages. I don't care if a client is liberal or conservative. I must insist, however, he exhibit some basic human decency.
 


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