A Lesson in Empathy

I believe deeply in the potential of every human being. I’m grateful to have a job where I get to invest in building that potential every day. But recently I was reminded that we all struggle with our own internal biases in our relationships with other people. 

I was riding the train and a gentleman across from me mistook me for a friend. When I removed my mask and sunglasses, he instantly realized that he had taken me for someone else – a friend he built a strong bond with during his time in a homeless shelter and drug rehabilitation program in the Bronx. As we rode from125th Street to 34th Street I learned a lot about this gentleman that helped me in my own thinking.

I have been challenged to find empathy for those struggling with addiction because I have lost one sister to drug addiction and another is living with early onset dementia due to alcohol addiction. Unconsciously, I’ve harbored inner anger because my family and I suffered the heartbreaking byproducts of addiction and addicted loved ones. While chatting on the train, I learned the gentleman has been clean for 5 months and 13 days. He admitted himself for treatment when arresting officers told him he was at the bottom and needed help. He acknowledged that when he was active in his addiction, he only cared about feeding his habit. Left behind were his wife and two sons currently in college.

The greatest revelation for me was that, regardless of how he became drug addicted and homeless, he is somebody to his wife, his children, his mother, his father, and his estranged friend. I was reminded of the person he is – and that person is so much more that his addiction and his current circumstances.