On stealing signs

When I was 19 my neighborhood friends and I tried to steal our street sign. We thought it would be funny to put it on the wall in our college dorm room. We made bad thieves though — couldn’t even pull the thing out of the ground.

Had we succeeded, someone would have had to make a new sign. Someone would have had to go install it. Residents would have been mildly upset at seeing their street sign missing. Everyone would feel just a little less safe living there.

None of that crossed our minds though, because it would have required more empathy than we were capable of.

Empathy, imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes, is a skill. It’s not often listed as a skill employers are looking for, but the best employees seem to have it.

Not every oncologist has had cancer. No male doctor delivering a baby knows what it’s like to be pregnant. I train hockey players even though I’ve never played hockey. Starting from that kind of deficit requires an investment of emotional labor.

We don’t need more stuff, and we probably don’t need more money.

We need more people who can understand what it’s like for someone else. We need more people we can trust.

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