When I was a cop every once in a while, I would be assigned a ride-along. A ride-along is a civilian who has been cleared to ride with a patrol officer to see what life was like on the streets. Of all the people that rode along with me, each one left that experience with a greater understanding of the job.
I wonder what it would be like if we could have a ride-along program in other areas of life. What would it be like for someone to ride along with a small business owner struggling to make payroll and keep the doors open during an economic downturn? What would it be like to ride along with a young, single mom with two kids in tow working multiple jobs just to survive, or riding along with someone who has a different ethnicity or social status and on the receiving end of demeaning comments and behavior? What would it be like to be a politician, an honest one, trying to pass laws that only get passed in an environment of compromise?
Separation from each other’s daily struggles is where the danger of misunderstanding takes place. We judge someone before we know who they are or the struggles they face. It’s easy to lob judgmental grenades into the lap of someone who is living in a challenging situation, of which we have no firsthand knowledge or empathy. Perhaps the most life-changing thing that takes place during a ride-along is getting close enough to see and hear the personal struggles other people are experiencing. It’s in that connection where understanding comes, and a compassionate response can be offered.