From my spot across the room, I heard an older woman talking to a young intern.
“It will get easier – I promise!”
We were in a hard area. An area where poverty pounded the pavement and homeless gathered in shop doorways, waiting for their evening meal at any shelter they could find. The intern was working at a nonprofit organization as a part of her social work major at university. She had grown up in a suburb with well-kept lawns and less visible dysfunction and poverty. She was struggling.
I stopped what I was doing when I heard the statement.
I grew up in an area where poverty was ever-present. From deformed beggars on the streets to children with the bloated tummies and reddish hair of malnutrition, I was never shielded from my surroundings. I am fully comfortable navigating the streets of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and various cities in North America. I spend time with refugees and before I get to work each day, I have already passed ten to fifteen homeless people.
But there’s one thing that I’ve learned about many of us: Seeing and responding to the poor doesn’t necessarily get easier. You may get used to it. You may not stare, or get startled, or cry every time you see a small child put their hand out for money and follow you down the street, ever-persistent in their goal. But it doesn’t necessarily get easier.
Some of us are hard-wired to feel these things in our gut. It doesn’t make us better than others, it doesn’t make us worse than others. It’s who we are at our core. Identifying and empathizing with others is in our DNA.
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