By Carla Schick
On a recent episode of the Oprah show, some of her ultimate fans were given the opportunity to travel with her to Victoria, Australia, where they explored the majestic Phillip Island. This island is home to the largest penguin colony in the world, and every night at sunset, thousands of these tiny wild penguins emerge out of the ocean and march across the beach to their homes in the sand dunes.
Although these Little Penguins (yes, that is their name) stand only 12 to 13 inches tall, their kindness and compassion for one another rivals that of any full-grown human. Each time they parade across the sand, whether at night to go to sleep, or in the morning to go back out to sea, these petite penguins display their concern for one another by never leaving a penguin behind. Their older ones, their chicks and especially their sick are always taken care of; if one penguin falls behind for any reason, the group circles back to gather their fellow penguin, making sure that each one makes it to their destination safely.
A member of the group who witnessed this phenomenon firsthand made this observation: “It would be a good thing if people really took care of each other like penguins, because not one was left behind.”
This episode of the show made me think of my recent visit to a well-known high-end department store that’s known for its customer service. After a long day of shopping, my family and I decided to take a break and have a late lunch in its café. The restaurant was jam-packed, so while I stood in line to order our food, my mother, who suffers from severe chronic pain in her right foot (perhaps some readers remember her story from my Lysol, Luggage and Lodging-Oh, My! blog), decided to go and find a table so that she could sit down.
My mom usually hides her pain fairly well, but on this day, it was pretty plain on her pretty face. So she sits down and here comes a restaurant busser and he tells her that she can’t sit down until she orders first. My mom let him know that her daughter (me) is standing in line to order. He still insisted that she get up, so she politely requested to speak with the manager. Recognizing that there seemed to be a problem, my dad walked over to where my mom was sitting. Reluctantly, the manager came to see what was wrong. My mom explained to him that I was standing in line to order food, but he still insisted that she leave the table, not because she hadn’t ordered yet, but because there weren’t enough people sitting at the table. Mind you, this was a table for four, and we were a party of three; the table was just fine. My mom let him know that we had three adults, but he persisted that she leave the table.
In addition to the fatigued expression on my mom’s face, my dad even told the manager that his wife was in pain and is disabled. “Can she please just sit down?” he asked. The manager didn’t show an ounce of kindness or compassion; he still would not allow her to sit at the table, even though more tables were open for other diners by this time. So we left. This was hardly the compassionate customer service we expected from such a highly reputed establishment. My dad should not have even had to tell him that she was disabled. Showing a little thoughtfulness would have gone a long way toward making my mom feel better.
So, in this instance, the Little Penguins of Phillip Island showed more sympathy and consideration than their human counterparts. My mom was left behind that afternoon by a careless manager.
What has happened to kindness and a little compassion for human frailty? Has it really become a lost art to show fellow feeling?
What has been your experience? Has living with a chronic illness made you more or less compassionate? When have you been in need of compassion but been denied it?