New York Attitude

When you live in New York, it’s easy to forget about compassion. The Big Apple is known for many things: the diversity, the culture, the crowds, the cabs. But when you think about the city, compassion is usually not the first word that pops into your head. Perhaps loud or busy, but probably not sympathetic or understanding.

And that’s understandable. I mean, it’s easy to write all New Yorkers off as jerks just because a guy on the street shoved you around, or cursed you out, or that car driver blew past you riding the end of a yellow light. On a rainy day, the thought of New York City can conjure up the image of taxis splashing pedestrians with mucky puddle water, or bike riders unexpectedly flying out of traffic, headed straight at you.

Taking this mind set is not just overly pessimistic—it’s the easy way out. If you never let your guard down, then you’ll stay safe, right?


When I’m off in a different city, I try to rock the NYC attitude, I admit it—jaywalking like I’m late to meet Michelle Obama, giving cars obscene hand gestures when they piss me off—but I don’t think I could say that that too-cool New York scowl is a permanent fixture on the faces of our pedestrians. Since going on crutches three weeks ago, I’ve seen the faces of compassionate New York City workers popping up everywhere to give me a hand. In fact, one time a taxi driver just stopped for me without me having to hail him, to ask if I needed help, and conveniently enough, a taxi was just the help that I needed. When I’m hobbling around, everyone nearby suddenly becomes chivalrous: holding doors, stepping out of my way, providing directions to elevators, etc. Yes, there are the few who stay rude despite my condition, such as the bus driver who saw that I wanted to get on, but whose doors were already closed, and just shook his head and drove away, but I find these types of people are surprisingly few and far between in this city that’s supposedly known for its cold heart.

From my experiences over the past three weeks I’ve come to recognize the prevalence of the Fundamental Attribution Error, which is the tendency of people to underestimate the impact of situational factors in other people’s behavior, and at the same time overestimate the influence of dispositional factors on their actions. In other words, we often automatically attribute bad features to a person when they do something improper instead of considering their story, their perspective, in explaining why they might have done so. When I have a brace on my foot and crutches under my arms, people shed their Fundamental Attribution Error tendencies because they can directly see my back-story, or at least get an idea of it, and why it’s causing me to act the way I am.

I think that if all New Yorkers (and everyone else) were to start recognizing that every individual has a unique personal experience that leads them to take the actions that they do, we can create more compassion throughout the city, and that would be a great thing. If people could start taking down the NYC-guard that they’ve built up around themselves, the city could be a much nicer place to live.

/elizabeth Kaleko

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