Andy Blumenthal
Leadership With Heart

How a Sticky Situation Taught Me Some Empathy

Credit Photo: Anna Shvets via

I was getting a routine blood test on Friday for my annual physical, and what I didn’t expect was the mouthful that I got from the phlebotomist.

The conversation started out friendly enough, but then quickly turned in another direction.

I came in and cheerfully wished the technician a “Happy Friday!”

He smirked and said,

You know what the best times of the week are? Well, of course, it’s Friday and quitting time!

I’m thinking, “Is this an uh-oh situation coming?” But I’ve got to get the blood work done without any mishaps or infections from a jab in the wrong place.

So I said:

Yeah, we all certainly do work hard and look forward to Friday!

Then he turned to me, and it only got worse from there. He replies:

You know, I have two jobs, and this is my second one. I only come in here to earn a few extra bucks!

Now I knew I was in trouble, and there was no going back. In vain, I tried one more time:

Well, they sure could certainly use some plaster and a good coat of paint in the waiting room! Maybe that would cheer things up a little for the customers and the people that work here.

Fast forward a bit. As I felt the needle go sharply into my arm, he said:

Who do you think you’re telling? Just look at this place! And you know what? They don’t care about us, and we don’t care about you!

Yikes, now I’ve just hit the wall and need to get out of there in one piece. Like a proverbial hostage, I say:

Uh, let’s both stay on the same page here, so we can finish these lab tests together.

Thank G-d, he finished the blood draw, and it was over. But as I reflected afterwards, I thought to myself that this guy is just one of probably millions out there who are unhappy with their jobs, their relationships, their lives, and maybe more broadly, the direction things are going in for them.

And as the customer sits in a chair getting needled, it can be a little intimidating when the people on the other end of the needle aren’t all that happy with what they’re doing there.

More broadly, I thought, while there are certainly good people out there who do care and who genuinely want to make things better, there are also probably quite a few who are fundamentally unhappy, fed up, or worse.

While this story could make you feel powerless and scared, perhaps it’s not hard to understand who and what we are facing every day. We are frequently living in a world that (technology aside) is going morally haywire, a world where the ordinary person is at the mercy of colossally powerful forces:

  • Dictators who hold weapons of mass destruction at their fingertips
  • Politicians who follow the demands of their largest benefactors
  • Executives who fill their ever-bulging pockets.

Is it any wonder then that people get frustrated and angry, abuse and mistreat others, and destroy themselves with addictions or even suicide?

Clearly, this customer experience was not okay. No one should act out on the excuse that they are somehow powerless, oppressed, or “victims of society.”

To be fair, though, I still see this other person suffering in a system where things are often stacked so high against the “average Joe” that he or she has no chance.

To “move the needle” of the world in the right direction, perhaps we must fundamentally change the order of things so that people are paramount while profit and power are not. What that means is that we don’t tolerate the conditions that lead to tyrants, corruption, and endless greed.

While this may not solve every human interaction that goes crazy or awry, I am confident that improving the human condition will help to bring about positive universal change.

About the Author
Andy Blumenthal is a dynamic, award-winning leader who writes frequently about Jewish life, culture, and security. All opinions are his own.
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