It feels like empathy and compassion are words that get thrown around a lot these days. And if empathy and compassion are at the core of connection, and connection is at the core of selling & leading, we got to explore these things deeper. I got to say though, sometimes I feel qualified to talk about this, sometimes I don’t. I know for me, it’s easy to be my own best critics, but I hope I never forget this lesson…
I’m at sleep away camp, and I think it was the summer between my 6th and 7th grades. I didn’t go with any of my friends, but bonded pretty quickly with the other half a dozen or so kids in my bunk. There was one kid, I wish I remember his name – I don’t – but he was the one who didn’t click with the rest of us. In fact, this one kid wreaked all kinds of havoc on us. He fought with us all; about everything. And all of us hated him in return. He would throw tantrums and pick fights. He was just the worst to have in the bunk. We all galvanized against him, and began to do some really nasty things to him. He would lash out at us, and we would take turns going at it with him.
I remember one day when he was out, a few of us vandalized all his stuff. We took all of his clothes out of his locker, and threw everything outside – literally threw all his clothes in the mud. And we were proud, as if we were teaching him a lesson. When the counselors found out what had happened, they grilled us and tried to get us to confess. None of us did. And we were punished as a group, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to torment him. For the entire session, our Counselors tried to get us to include him, to pull him into our circle, but we didn’t. It just got worse and continued for the two weeks.
Anyways, on the last night, we were all sitting around the closing camp fire. It was the camp ritual for the entire camp to come together on the last night, sing camp songs, and tell stories. I’m guessing there were probably a couple hundred kids in all. And I’ll never forget this – this kid, this eleven or twelve year-old, that we’d been terrorizing the entire time, was sitting on our counselor’s lap. He was crying hysterically. And our counselor was holding him tightly, squeezing him into his body, trying desperately to comfort him. And none of us knew what was going on.
Later that night, our counselor pulled the rest of us aside, and I can’t even begin to describe his tone, but he told us that they just found out that the kid’s dad had died, and they had found this out earlier that night. The kid who we’d been humiliating, tormenting and bullying, had just lost his father. And there’s more to it – he was dealing with this the entire session. We had learned that he was actually sent off to camp specifically because his dad was dying, and that’s how the family decided to handle it – send him off to camp to make friends, to be in a positive environment. And here we were, crushing him.
I wish I could go back in time and change everything about those two weeks.
I wish I could take everything back that I did to that kid. I wish I would have befriended him, helped him, brought him in. To this day, I want to cry every time I think about that. It’s one of the worse things I feel I’ve done in my life.
I know its easy to forget these lessons in life in the heat of battle, when people mistreat us. But I hope I have the wear-with-all to remind myself the next time someone digs into me, or mistreats me, or is just nasty to me, that maybe they’re going through something I know nothing about. And its hard; its so hard.
But what if everyone is just trying to do the best they can with what they have? We’re all dealing with something.
I’m no expert at this, and I have my misses, but when I think about empathy and compassion, I think about that kid… and that summer at camp.
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