Condescension or Compassion


One is wanting to feel a little better than the other person, the other genuinely wants to help the other person. The first cloaks their feeling of superiority (whether warranted or not) in a guise of being helpful. One is odious, the other sweet and to be cherished. 

The Jr. Mad Scientist and I had a conversation about the differences very recently, after we experienced a compassionate person doing something that could have been taken for condescension if we wanted. She brought it up as we were working on moving a very heavy cabinet into the pantry. I’ll back up a little and set the scene, shall I? I’d been looking for a dresser or such to fill a hole in the pantry. When the Ginja Ninja moved out, we gave her the fridge from the pantry as she needed one. So there was a gap, and I didn’t need another fridge (I won’t get into why we had three, but we did). My sister, who is a professional organizer, (could we be any more opposite!?) had posted about keeping linens organized, so the idea of having drawers for my kitchen towels, tablecloths, and such was very appealing. I did what I usually do, and hopped on FB marketplace to see what was out there, cheap. I got the usual runaround of people who sort of want to sell their stuff, but can’t actually be bothered to either set up appointments or meet. This is nothing new. And I made contact with a lady who had a cabinet that was the right measurements. But, she said, you’ll have to have help to load it. 

Since I usually do all of this on my own, I wasn’t worried about it. The First Reader vacillates between amusement at my habit of coming home with bookshelves (look what followed me home, honey!) and annoyance at clutter in the house (I solemnly swear to not add anything else to the pantry after this, dear). I try not to bother him with my projects and I’m very sensitive to the condition of his back. I am perfectly capable of lifting and toting my own crap. However, to make the nice lady happy, I took along help. The Jr. Mad Scientist is taller than I am, mind you. She’s got two inches on me. I’m what is politely referred to as ‘petite’ although I never think of myself as being small. Dad used to call me ‘sawed-off’ and tease me about the size of my feet… which is how I decided that really, I’m a Hobbit. But I digress. Both the JMS and I are below average height, for women. She’s 17 now, and doesn’t look like a kid anymore. Two women, a small SUV, and a tape measure. 

Having set all of that up… we pull up a very long gravel driveway, which I realize to my amusement puts us up behind our own house with another house in between. I get out, and a older gentleman pops out of the front door and I greet him. He indicates the cabinet already on the covered porch, and looks past me at my car. “I was hoping you’d have a truck.” He said. 

I have one. It has the GN’s stuff in it to be moved, still. Waiting on her go-ahead. How that kid has so much stuff… But I digress. 

“If I can measure that? I’m pretty sure it will fit. With the seats down I’ve got 40″ wide and 60″ length.” I pointed out. He let me measure the cabinet, fussing over moving stuff on the porch, and then looked at us. 

“I’ll help load it.” He announced firmly. 

“My daughter and I can get it,” I protested. “We’ve done this before!” 

“I’ve got a dolly.” He vanished into his garage and the JMS and I shrugged at each other. 

He did indeed have a dolly, and it was a nice one. I complimented it, he strapped the cabinet up, and we headed for my car, down the steps of the porch and around the driveway. I walked with him, guiding it, while the JMS tried not to be awkward. The cabinet fit in the car. He was slightly surprised, but gruffly told me if I needed help getting it in the house to just call, he’d come right over with the dolly (since we had at this point established we were neighbors.) I paid his wife and he clumped back up the steps and into the house. 

We went home, and wrestled – with quite some effort! – the cabinet in the house and in place. Dang thing is heavy. It’s staying with the house when we move. But as we did so, the JMS told me that she had been thinking about how the old man had made her feel. She should have felt, she told me , that he was condescending to us, especially her. He’d gently but firmly maneuvered her away from helping at all. But she hadn’t felt offended. She could see that he was really concerned about both of us. 

“He probably has grandkids your age,” I pointed out to her. “He was just doing what he thought he needed to do.” 

“Yeah. It was sort of sweet.” She shrugged. “I could have helped, but now I’m helping.” 

She was, too. It took three of us at home – the Boy had arisen from his den – to get it in place. We stepped back and looked at it. Lots of space. The JMS announced, “I’ll organize the pantry tomorrow!” 

Life lessons. I’ll take them where I can get them. Today’s was to not assume that just because someone is concerned about your abilities, they are looking down on you. They might just be compassionate and caring. 



3 responses to “Condescension or Compassion”

  1. Yep. It’s all in how you look at it. I couldn’t even tell where you were going with this until the end and JMS’s comments. He just seemed like a nice guy to me. Of course, there are people out there who would’ve taken offense, but they’re the perpetually offended. :shrug: Their lives must be so tiring.

    Anyway, have fun with your new cabinet!

    1. Yes, I wouldn’t have thought of it if she hadn’t said something. I’m used to people being nice. Sure, sometime people aren’t nice, but I don’t walk into an encounter assuming that.

      The perpetually offended are tedious. I’m certain they don’t care and wouldn’t listen to me… but that cynicism creeps in sometimes. So I wanted to focus of a bit of sweetness in human interactions.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    I’ve had many good encounters such as you describe (usually with older gentlemen who were raised right!). The ones that worry me are where it looks like the old guy is considerably more decrepit than I am (and that’s saying something nowadays, given how bad my back is). I generally just bite my tongue and hope he doesn’t do himself any permanent damage, lol! But that was a good lesson on words and on graciously accepting help, even when you don’t necessarily need it. ‘Gentlemanly’ behavior goes both ways. 😉