Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Missing Alfredo: A Lesson in Empathy

It was one of those hectic weekends, where there is too much to do in the time you have. While we were out shopping, we decided to pick up something quick for dinner so we got a pan of the Costco chicken alfredo since it was conveniently on sale and it is something we all like. Upon arriving home, we had an hour to shower, eat, and get out the door to the evening session of stake conference. I popped the alfredo in the oven and noticed it said to cook for 40-60 minutes. Oh well, no time to eat then. We made it out the door with minutes to spare, giving our 12 year old daughter instructions on getting it out of the oven and serving it.

 After the meeting, which went longer than expected, we needed to pick up a few more things from the grocery store. By now my wife and I were both famished, but wanting to save money felt it best to go home and eat the dinner we had prepared, and which hopefully, had been put in the refrigerator and not left on the table for the cat to eat. Upon arriving we found that joy, it was put away, but upon removing the foil cover found to our disappointment that there was less than a single portion left for the two of us. On seeing this, my wife about broke down into tears. I was also disappointed as I had been looking forward to savoring this dish. We found our children in the basement in front of the tube raucously laughing at the movie they were watching and confronted them about the lack of vittles remaining to us, whereupon my daughter launches into accusations and excuses.

After splitting the remaining noodles and  paltry pieces of chicken that remained, and filling out the meal with a large salad, we waited until their movie ended and then sat our children down to discuss the situation. Actually, we had started with scripture study but it quickly became apparent that we needed to address the issue first. My wife accused our daughter of being selfish and she responded saying she didn't know she needed to save any for us, assuming we would get something while we were out. I said a prayer under my breath asking for the help of the Spirit. After a while of things getting worse, I realized what we were dealing with was a lack of empathy.

Now I just recently learned that it is extremely likely that I have Aspergers, an autistic spectrum disorder characterized by, among other things, a pronounced egocentricity and lack of empathy. Empathy is something I have struggled with my entire life. I could see that my daughter, who has many of my tendencies and character traits, also was struggling with this concept. I called a halt to the "discussion" and tried to focus it on the concept of empathy in these terms: that her choices had consequences which affected others, and whether malicious or not, or even intentional or not, caused us to lose out on a dinner we had been anticipating, causing disappointment and sorrow in us. We were not asking her to change it, that was impossible. We were not blaming her for our hunger, we are grown ups and can certainly feed ourselves. What we were asking from her was to see how her actions hurt us by trying to put herself in our shoes and acknowledging our feelings and to show some remorse.

It turned into a good lesson about the atonement and I realized that it was a lesson I had not fully comprehended until then either. Every day we do things to people to cause them pain. Physical, emotional, psychological, it doesn't matter. Even if it wasn't intentional or out of a sense of maliciousness, it can still happen. Sometimes there are ways we can make amends and sometimes there are not. Our daughter could not go back in time and undo her actions. She could not provide us with the same meal at the moment we wanted it. Acknowledging that and turning it over to the Lord, asking forgiveness of those we have harmed or offended is all we can do. Taking responsibility for the offense is important, even when it wasn't intended. This is a hard thing. It is something I have avoided most of my life. I am an  exceptional excuse maker and I see that my daughter has learned that skill very well. I want to change that about me.

 I don't know yet how to handle situations where someone calls foul and I have done nothing wrong. In other words I don't want to simply lie down and get steamrolled when I am not at fault. There is a fine balance that needs to be struck here and I need to investigate that one further. In the meantime, I will be sure to let my daughter know if she needs to save dinner for us when we are going out.