Every time you embark a new milestone in your life, you feel like you are alone. You feel things you have never felt before, you feel things that no one warned you about and while you are struggling to come to terms with what’s happening with you, someone comes along and tells you that what you are feeling is perfectly normal. For instance, when you loose your first milk tooth and you want to bury yourself in shame, people tell you that everyone goes through this and it’s perfectly normal. I suppose people have good intentions and want to ease your pain, but does that really make you feel better? Perhaps not. May be because you don’t care if it’s normal or not, but you just want the feeling to go away.
As a woman, when you start getting menstrual cramps and you think you won’t survive the day and people dismiss it as normal, it doesn’t help because the pain ain’t going anywhere. When you get married and you are squabbling every day with your partner about unimportant stuff, and people say it’s normal, it doesn’t make you feel better because you are so unhappy deep-down. When you have a child and suddenly no one, including your own husband and parents care about you anymore, and people come and tell you this is normal, it doesn’t make you feel better. Because being deeply unsettled is an unfamiliar feeling and people assuring you that you are supposed to be feeling this lousy is NEVER a good thing.
While the experiences feel strange, sometimes painful while we are in the midst of it, looking back, it begins to feel a lot more familiar. This probably causes people to dismiss the newness and strangeness that freshers are experiencing. If possible, we all would like to play a part in preventing someone from getting hurt, however, we can play a pretty significant role in how people perceive pain/ gain in the way we respond to them when they share their stories. When I say that I feel like a mother more often than I feel like a wife or a daughter, you could either say “Oh come on, that’s natural after having a child!” or you could say “Oh, why’d you say that? Tell me more about what you’re thinking?”
Now, depending on who you are, you might prefer one or another, but I definitely prefer the latter, because it indulges me and allows me to own my experience as my own rather than let every other mother on earth take credit for it.
Some day last month, I was taking the Picadilly line back home when I gave my seat to a pregnant woman who walked into my compartment. She asked me for the seat before I could offer it. So the first two seats on either side are reserved for either old people, pregnant women or people carrying little children. Some people automatically offer them to you even before you ask whereas sometimes people don’t. However, you can always ask people to get up if you want to claim your reservation. I carry Berry on the tube everyday and I usually don’t ask for the seat unless offered. Sometimes I don’t accept even when I am offered a seat.
Maybe it has something to do with my upbringing – having never been eligible for any sort of reservation, I have fundamentally been opposed to the concept of reservation. I think reservation makes us less human. It leaves very little room for character. I appreciate that someone came running to the train before me and was glad to get a seat and it is unfair for them to get up just because I walked into the compartment with a baby. Sometimes I am super hungry and tired and all I long for is someone to offer me a seat but something very innate in me stops me from demanding a seat. Having said this, I immensely appreciate the people who do offer me their seat, especially when they aren’t even sitting on one of these reserved seats as this gives me hope for humanity.
Since I don’t claim my reservation on the tube and a lot of times I am dying from tiredness (is that a word?), I like to distract myself with a little game. I like to watch the people who are seated to see who is noticing me and how they are feeling about being seated while they aren’t offering their seat to someone who could use it more than them. This is classic capitalism in the train right? A lot of people show guilt, I can almost read the conversation they are having with themselves if they should offer me their seat or not, while some pretend to be too busy to notice and some others are blissfully in their own worlds. The best are the ones who won’t themselves offer their seats instead ask others to get up to offer me a seat.
You’d think that people who’re subject to difficult situations themselves would be more empathetic of me carrying a child on the tube, but it’s quite surprising to see the number of people from minority communities that don’t give a damn. You’d imagine that people who are supposedly subject to discrimination (based on their gender, race, community, etc.) or have lesser opportunities would be more sensitive to people in need of support but we probably don’t think about topics like disability, racism, sexism, etc. most of the time unless it personally inconveniences us or our loved ones.
So experience doesn’t necessarily give rise to empathy always. I think people are more likely to be empathetic when they are shown compassion in times of their need and feel indebted to give back. Since I am offered a seat on the tube ever so often and I am met with smiles of compassion by random strangers on the street, I am more conscious of giving back, even if it’s just a smile in acknowledgement of someone’s pain. Strange you think? Sometimes just acknowledging someone is a show of empathy and it can take both of you a long way!