Compassion and caregiving go hand in hand. Many of us hit a wall at some point and start to suffer compassion fatigue. This happens when we get overwhelmed by daily duties and forget to take care of ourselves. But this fatigue also has a flip side. I call it compassion aptitude.
For me, compassion aptitude is a skill you build over time while serving as a #caregiver. Your capacity to care for others may increase even if you’re not trying to build strength in that area. After exercising compassion for years, it’s much harder to ignore the suffering of other people. You find yourself with a reservoir of empathy that extends to others — even total strangers. It happened to me at the 2018 Super Bowl parade.
This was a remarkable day in Philly history since the #Eagles football franchise hadn’t won a Super Bowl in nearly 60 years of play. It was a special day for me because my late father, and other family members, were lifetime #Eagles fans. In 2005, when the Eagles also played in the Super Bowl, my old Philly neighbors spilled into the streets every time the team scored a touchdown. It was one of the most enjoyable days during my years of living there. The Eagles could not defeat the New England Patriots in 2005. But 2018 was completely different.
At the 2018 #Eagles Super Bowl Parade
The Super Bowl parade was a crowded affair that gave me many chances to use compassion aptitude on the streets. The first opportunity occurred as I left my house. While locking the door, I noticed two young African-American men standing on the corner looking at their phones. I didn’t recognize them so I asked if they were lost. It turned out they were from Dallas, Texas and had flown in just for the celebration. They were hoping to catch an Uber to the parade route. Unfortunately, I knew that wouldn’t happen.
Millions of visitors had jammed the city and the East-West streets were blocked off along Broad Street. Uber drivers would not be able to pick the guys up. They were clean-cut, polite, and adventurous. As kids they had also endured years of name-calling from Dallas Cowboys fans. I was worried about them getting lost or not finding the parade route, so I offered to give them a ride. In the car, we had a lively conversation and I was really happy we met. I parked a few blocks from the subway and we all walked to Broad Street together before parting. I hope they had a safe and happy time in Philadelphia.
The subway delivered me to South Philly where I found a viewing spot on the steps of a row house. The owner was a classic, tough South Philly woman who was there to see the parade with her family. She explained to everyone on the steps — including me — that the building belonged to her and we could stay unless her kids asked for our spots. We all wanted to stay — the two Asian ladies, the African-American lady, and me (white as Mr. Clean, but with less muscle). We appreciated being there.
Compassion on Philly’s mean streets
A few minutes later, another woman arrived at the steps with two little kids in tow. One of the kids started climbing up the steep stair rail in a risky way. The building owner told him he had to get down because he could fall and get hurt. Shortly afterwards, the kid started climbing again. The owner repeated that he had to get down. She wasn’t mean but she said he’d have to leave if he climbed on the rail again. The child’s mother then started screaming at the building owner and things turned ugly between them. Their conversation got loud, then it got racial. Then it got threatening. I couldn’t believe the insults I was hearing.
The streets were jammed with people and these two women were both posturing for a fight. Something inside of me went off — my compassion super power? I went over to the railing and put myself between the women and said, “Look around. There isn’t going to be a fight here. Everyone is here to have a good time. Look at all the kids here. You can’t talk like that in front of the children.” They stared hard at me, but both got a little calmer. The raging mother shouted her final insult and took her children away into the crowd. The building owner sat down and swallowed her adrenaline. I just stood there, with my toes and fingers freezing, hoping the parade would soon begin.
the Vince Lombardi Trophy at Last
The team finally arrived and the crowd roared for them. I got to see Nick Foles and the Vince Lombardi trophy and many other things I never expected to see. Years of caregiving prepared me well for the event — better than many seasons of watching football. I realized that my compassion aptitude is like a quarterback’s throwing arm. It’s very strong, very accurate, and should not be underestimated.