Everywhere we look there are numbers. They overwhelm us, upset us, and even make us forget about our compassion. I’m not talking about how scary math is, I’m talking about treating other people as numbers and not their individual stories. It could be something as small as showing an annoyance towards those in front of us at the checkout. That they are too slow or bought too much. Not stopping to think about the family they may have at home waiting for them. Or, something larger like barely pausing when we hear of hundreds killed in a bombing overseas or thousands in a natural disaster. We aren’t heartless, we just think of the number instead of the individuals. There is less emotional attachment to that number, easier to push to the back of our minds.

Maybe it is my background as a Social Worker. I’ve been educated and trained to care for the individual. To empower them so they can lead an independent life. I’ve never blinked at the “wasted dollars” in Food Stamps for “people that don’t even need them.” Instead I think to the times that I’ve spent hours at DHHS with a client as they beg to get their services turned back on after a glitch in the system deleted their benefits. Driven them home to find their fridge with only condiments in it. Pretended that I had extra food in my car to give them when really I bought it out of my own pocket so they wouldn’t go hungry.

I’ve known people to scoff at Fast Food workers making more than minimum wage because they should “get a real job.” Choosing to lump them all together rather than consider the 20 something year old girl with parents that used her Social Security number to turn on utilities when she was growing up. Never paying them. Leaving her with bad credit and little financial opportunity. Some of these same people scoffing at people’s inability to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” are forgetting that they themselves may have had a farm job right out of high school. Given to them by their family or a friend. Could attend college because of a family loan, or at least had mom and dad present to fill out financial aide forms. Sifting through the confusion of the paperwork that few 18 year olds could understand.

I’m not oblivious, I know that by sharing these words my political affiliation will be assumed. My opinion whether it makes sense or not, will be disregarded. That is fine. I am hoping to only share my experience I’ve had in dealing with the individual and how I’ve allowed it to shape my world view.

I’m also aware that tough decisions have to be made that affect the masses. We can’t possibly take all individual stories into account when making large scale decisions, can we? Probably not, but in our everyday life we can work to understand and support people as individuals. Not as a fraction of the big number that we so often focus on.