On Tuesday, I was riding my bike downtown when I saw another cyclist wipe out on the ice while crossing the street. We made eye contact as he struggled to get back on his bike and out of traffic. I wanted to ask if he was ok or at least acknowledge that I saw what happened, but in keeping with Finnish code, I just kept on riding and didn't look back. I was so Finnish in that moment.
Then on Wednesday, I was helping a student with her essay and I asked about a picture of her cat that was on display on her laptop, and it turns out that cat just died last month, and the student started crying because she was still coping with the loss. I put my arm around her and gave her a little side-hug and acknowledged her tears and sadness and told her I was so sorry. I was so American in that moment.
And yet, neither of these situations felt right. I felt like I betrayed a fellow human being in the first instance, and crossed a cultural line in the second instance. Maybe sometimes there is no right way to do things - no right way to show empathy.