Shades of Gray

I woke up to face a reality I did not expect to endure. It’s a reality that never occurred to me, really. A reality that suggests I may be out of touch with reality in some fundamental ways; ways that suggest I live a life detached from the cruel foundation of the lives of so many others. Let me explain.

A young woman I know announced to the world this morning, via Facebook, that her relationship with a college at which she had been teaching for five years is ending. I know nothing more than that; but as I try to read between the lines, I think I read that it’s not her choice. It’s not something she decided to do. With my limited knowledge of her circumstances, I think her departure is apt to be a painful dislocation. I suspect she has very limited resources, very limited income; the termination of her employment with the college could be catastrophic for her. Again, I don’t know the details; it’s possible she is leaving to accept another opportunity that will put her on solid financial footing. But I suspect not. If my suspicions are correct, she is a step closer to financial ruin.

I am just an acquaintance. I am not a close friend. What can I do? What should I do? What is the appropriate role of an acquaintance who may be witnessing the financial collapse of another person’s life? If I were a man of means, I might offer financial aid. But I’m not a man of means. Yet I am in far better shape, financially, than she is. At what point does one opt to suffer a little to alleviate the suffering of someone else?

Would I think I have an obligation if I thought she were a friend and not simply an acquaintance? At what point does an acquaintance become a friend? Where is the dividing line between compassion and obligation? Where does one draw the line between wishing one could help and feeling compelled to do so?

I suppose the first step to answering all of my questions would be to get more facts. But it’s hard to ask someone—a mere acquaintance—if she needs help. And it’s inadvisable, I think, to ask the question about whether help is needed unless the follow-up is, unquestionably, an offer to provide it.

Shades of gray. Too damn many shades of gray.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Compassion, Emotion, Friendship. Bookmark the permalink.

Please tell me how this post strikes you.