Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.


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A Post About Empathy

Catherine Ryan Hyde

Years ago, I was doing a lot of business travel. And I do mean a lot. I was supplementing my writing income as a public speaker. It got out of hand, at least by my standards. I was on the road for about a third of the year.

One day I was exhausted and trying to get home when an airline problem caused me to miss a flight out of Phoenix to San Luis Obispo, my nearest regional airport. And there are only a couple of USAir flights to SLO per day. It’s not like American or United out of LAX or SFO, where they go out every couple of hours. The next flight was a seven-hour wait.

I had a bit of a tantrum at the gate, in front of the gate agent. Not pretty, but I was just so exhausted, and needed so badly to get home. I stood in the customer service line for an eternity, then vented my frustrations on the customer service agent. I wanted her to find me a flight on another airline to get me home sooner. But there was nothing. I gave up inside. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll just go to the American Airlines lounge.” Even though I wasn’t flying AA that day. But this debacle happened to fall into the one year I actually threw for the club membership, because I spent so much time in airports. I was told that lounge was closed.

Exhausted and discouraged, I rolled my heavy bags to the US Air lounge. Where I did not have a membership. There I quietly told the woman behind the counter that I would pay the outrageous one-time fee if I absolutely had to, but considering how much trouble the airline had caused me that day, I would very much appreciate being comped in.

Here’s what she said. “Okay, I’ll go ahead and do that for you.  Because you didn’t yell at me. These people come in here, and they yell at me, and I think, ‘Why do I want to do anything nice for you? You’re yelling at me.’”

I thanked her sincerely, then settled in. In retrospect, I should have thanked her twice, because she taught me something I’ve never forgotten.

I sat and looked out the window for several hours. Under the window, baggage handlers drove their carts around in the hot Phoenix sun. I watched them throw bag after bag. And was struck with a very important thought. Everyone has been working hard. Everyone is tired. Everyone just wants to go home. My pressing problem was indeed real, and indeed my problem. But it was not in the least unique.

I couldn’t find the customer service agent again. But, to my delight, when I got back to the gate, there was the gate agent who had witnessed my tantrum. I apologized sincerely for losing my temper. He could not have been nicer about it.

The reason I’m writing this post…well, there are several. Some Facebook friends and I have been discussing empathy (or lack of same) as it relates to dog fighting. And this morning my Twitter friend Maggie, who works in a mall, tweeted that everyone in the world should work one full shift in a mall around the holidays. She said the world would be a better place if they did. I think she’s right.

When I was about 17, I waited tables at a Norm’s restaurant at Sunset and Vermont in Hollywood. For three whole days. Then the supervisor pulled me aside and told me I wasn’t fast enough. And I had to turn in my apron. But three days was enough. To this very day, almost 40 years later, I leave decent tips, and I don’t blame the wait staff if the food comes up slowly.

Looking for a New Year’s resolution? Maybe you could resolve to try to see the world through the other person’s eyes. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated. Right, the good old Golden Rule. I’ve always said, if we all followed it, the only problems left in the world would be weather related.

Happy Holidays, and here’s to good weather in the New Year.