When Compassion Backfires

When I was in my 20’s and working at a day care center, they had a petting zoo come. Of course, I was thrilled.

I don’t remember the name of the day care. I don’t remember the kids that I cared for. I don’t remember my coworkers. But, I remember the donkey. The lonely donkey in a separate cage in the center of the animal menagerie.

Yes, the donkey was in the middle and this meant that no one could easily get to him. And that meant that he couldn’t get any attention. I felt so bad for this poor donkey who deserved love, too. So I worked my way over to him so I could give him that much deserved attention.

That was a mistake.

So I got as close as I could and stretched my arm out as far as I could, thinking that I was gonna pet a donkey. But, I never did pet that donkey. Instead I reached out, saying “hi, baby” (like I do every time I see an animal) and promptly found my middle finger stuck between the teeth of this donkey that I previously sympathized with.

This donkey was biting me. Biting me and not letting go! Well, crap.

I looked around for help. And got none.

Because as I stood with my arm outstretched and my hand hanging from a donkey’s mouth, the petting zoo festivities continued around me. Kids were petting bunnies. People were smiling and laughing, Literally no one noticed me or my struggles.

After what felt like forever, this sadistic donkey friend of mine finally let go. And I was free!

In extreme pain. But free,

I don’t remember if I sought him out or if he just showed up, but I soon was face-to-face with the petting zoo owner.

He smiled at me and I said,

“Your donkey bit me.”

I wasn’t really complaining; I realized my part in it. But I did want him to know because he was, after all, bringing this animal to a preschool petting zoo.

I don’t know what I expected him to say but it wasn’t this.

“Come visit us some time!”

Completely confused, I repeated, “Your donkey bit me.”

And then he handed me a brochure.

I walked away, feeling more than a little short on validation. But I was now well informed about the ranch so there was that! I was too surprised to be mad so I just headed back to my kids.

I completed my day and headed home to experience several weeks of an impressive amount of pain.

I was reminded of a couple important lessons that day.

People don’t listen. Especially not to me. Ok, that’s a generalization. But, I have found through the years that way too many people don’t take the time to figure out what I’m saying. Whether it’s because I’m talking too fast, talking too low. Or just talking. Way too many times, people have nodded in agreement when I was actually asking a question. Or they have laughed when I said something sad. Sometimes, it feels like people don’t pay attention to the world outside of themselves. But, in the defense of my coworkers on the fateful day, there were bunny rabbits in the parking lot!

Or if you flip this whole scenario around, there were a couple of good lessons, too!

People aren’t focusing on you all the time like you think. So you can dance like no one’s watching because they probably really aren’t. Or if they do notice you, they will most likely forget about you just as quickly. Always speak your mind and make sure you’re heard. It’s not always easy but it’s important.

But, the most important lesson is this one. If you see a donkey secluded in a cage that is out of reach, for the love of God, leave it the heck alone!

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