The Breakfast Club, Empathy + Coronavirus – How they connect with me

Written by Jim Bamboulis

The Breakfast Club

When I saw ‘The Breakfast Club’ for the first time, I immediately related most to the ‘nerdy’ kid. I didn’t have a slight lisp or high grades but boy did I ever respect authority figures, try my best to fit in and in a small way, hope my classmates understood, acknowledged and even recognized my awesomeness.

Once in the 11th grade, I was accidentally invited to a party. When classmates showed up super casual with ripped jeans and plaid shirts, I showed up wearing a clean pair of khakis, dress shoes and a tucked in button shirt. As you can imagine, I was a big hit in my corporate-style attire, and not accidentally anything for the rest of the year.

Glorious times!

More equipped to nail a job interview than make new friends, I was deflated. And considering the fact that I was a socio-economic outsider to my middle-class school mates, deflated was a theme. But I had a couple of secret weapons up my thrift shop cardigan.

Being poor financially, you get hit with a combination of humility and a perspective super quick, if you’re lucky. From a young age, my single Mom taught me to be thankful for every day, grateful for every meal and respectful to every person. To listen, understand and give people the benefit of the doubt, no matter how hard it can be sometimes. I didn’t consider these skills particularly useful during my youth but life, as it usually does, soon forced me to appreciate, even embrace them, no matter how difficult or painful.

So Jim, where are you going with this and how does it connect to the movie?

Although the first impression I made at that party was a successful failure, over time, things got better. Much like the character in the movie, my relatability, self-deprecating humour and a touch of non-threatening charm won over some of my classmates. I didn’t care about making friends with everyone but I did care about connecting with people, even in a small way. Don’t we all?

Of course, it was tough but the lesson I learned – over a long time – was that just because I didn’t fit in, didn’t mean I was invaluable. I also realized that those who took the time and energy to eventually get to know me better were a special bunch. They didn’t overlook the unpopular nor underestimate the nice kid. Over time, more people caught on and realized that the guy who got C’s in math but A’s in the ‘having clean shoes department’ was alright. That no matter who you were and where you came from, with a bit of time, everyone realized that they had something in common with each other. It wasn’t always rosy, but when it happened, it was something special, especially for the outsider like me looking in.

On being an ‘Empath’

I took everything – the good, bad and ugly – to heart and super personally. That accidental party I mentioned, yup, the weird looks and overall unpleasant energy directed my way hit me hard. I couldn’t understand why I dwelled on emotions so much and I don’t remember having a word to describe it. But, I found myself being sensitive to everything psychological and physiological from a young age. I wasn’t a mind-reader but I did have this ability to feel peoples’ innermost emotions, good or bad. Somehow, I could see it in their eyes. In fact, to this day, when I see a young kid playing alone and talking to himself, I still shed a small tear because at one point, that was me, the loner with a giant imagination.

To me, it was a weakness and I felt like I was intruding, trespassing into peoples’ most sensitive corners of their psyche. So I did the logical thing – I kept it deep inside for years and didn’t discuss it with anyone. It wasn’t until my 30s when I had the confidence to express what I was feeling. It was also at this time that the conversation about this sort of thing was becoming more open. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when it was still considered unusual, weird, even taboo to talk emotions and deep, complicated thoughts, especially in male circles.

I wasn’t a psychotherapist and I wasn’t booking sessions, but empathy made up a big portion of who I was to the core. I slowly viewed it not as a curse but as a blessing and used it to help those who silently screamed to be heard and understood from the macho, bodybuilding man to the female Executive VP.

It’s an emotional roller coaster for me at weddings and funerals. In fact, there have been several instances over the years where the surviving members of a deceased family member have spontaneously pulled me aside, openly expressed their inner most fears and insecurities, crying in my face and on my shoulder. I felt every word, every pitch of emotion. These types of circumstances solidified my belief that perhaps I was needed in a small way, that some people saw something in me, someone who they could trust to express themselves without judgement and total understanding.

So how do you go from The Breakfast Club and Empathy to the Coronavirus?

During this time, I feel an overwhelming amount of emotion for the domestic violence victim who might be stuck at home with no options, already poor families trying to keep it all together, and the helpless senior citizen stuck in a care home, separated from often helpless loved ones. I also feel emotional for those who are finally being acknowledged for their tireless work to improve our world, including the teachers who try to keep their sanity teaching your kids for hours at a time, 10 months a year, truckers transporting essential goods for the general public, health care workers who work around the clock to literally save as many lives as possible, and to communities rallying to support the small business down the street.

Awareness and consciousness of connectivity are sky high for many and it feels as if, as a result, more and more are understanding the importance of slowing down, acknowledging the truly important things in life, and being grateful for what they’ve got. Sure, there are ignorant people who toss their used gloves and masks to the ground and although I think I understand the train of thought, I’d rather not waste the energy. On the other end, people have posted fascinating photos and videos of nature rejuvenating itself, dolphins in the Venetian Canals and being able to see the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas. Hopefully when it comes to travel and our planet, the selfie stick gives way to settling into a moment.

I was the nice, nerdy kid who lived in a bad neighbourhood with a single Mom with little money. Standing on the outside, feeling like the underdog, I didn’t have time to think about high fashion or getting a car for my birthday. Besides Milli Vanilli and John Stamos, celebrities and artists didn’t appeal to me much. But I had plenty of time to think, understand and appreciate.

Treating people the way you wanted to be treated was what I was taught. C.S. Lewis is famously quoted as saying that “integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” That’s what I’ve tried to do throughout the days and years and of course being human, it’s very challenging to do that consistently and constantly. But having the ability to feel what the other person is feeling, thinking or having trouble expressing, has been my mainstay.

We’re living in unprecedented times. Everyone, everywhere has, is and will be affected for an unpredictable amount of time to come. Not since the September 11th attacks in New York have I seen so much appreciation for the ‘little person’; those often overlooked, under appreciated, typically disrespected.

We’ve all gotten the wake up call that was destined to happen sooner or later. With a touch of perspective, humility, gratitude to go with it. The superficial has given way to toilet paper, cleaning spray and wait your turn, please. The essential workers and the ones quite literally saving lives have rightfully replaced celebrities in the spotlight. Yes, we’re all connected, always were, always will be. We all depend on each other for everything, and it’s amazing to see that more of us are being reminded of that.

Question is, when this is all over and things get back to a new normal, will the people we’ve come to value today still be valued and respected as we move forward or will they be pushed back, out-of-sight, out-of-mind? On a societal level, I’m not expecting a total 180 shift of thoughts and actions but the nerdy, empathetic kid in me is hoping that on an individual level, appreciation and respect for all who do good is remembered, acknowledged and appreciated for some time to come.

I guess, we’ll see what happens on Monday.


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