Empathy: Let It Be The Word of 2021
Don’t Listen To Me, But Please, Hear Me Out: # 28
Shaheeda Abdul Kader, Jan 20 2021
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Why It Is Important To Have Empathy: A Plea
This is an Open Letter to Mall Management and Mall Operators in the UAE. I started a twitter campaign on Dec 22 2020 to bring back benches and seating in malls. Gulf News reporter, Sajila Saseendran even wrote a story about it. Unfortunately, nothing seems to have changed in the malls despite the Dubai Municipality has sent notifications to malls allowing them to bring back public seating.
Dear Mall Operators and Management, please understand, know and have empathy for your customers. I had so many twitter friends respond with similar pleas. Please see slide show below.
Who Are Mall Customers?
In 2017, my father was infected with Chikungunya, a mosquito borne disease that causes extreme pain in your bones. It takes six months to a year or more to fully recover.
The following year, dad and I went to Macca to perform Umrah. Dad was in much pain and was finding it very difficult to walk. However, he insisted on completing the Tawaf and Sa’i himself without using a wheelchair.
On our way back to Dubai, Dad and I were sat in the Jeddah Airport lounge. Suddenly, dad got up and said he would be back in a while. I was worried about him walking as he was limping. He returned in 20 minutes with a gift bag with perfumes for my mom.
That’s my dad. No matter how unwell he is, he always brings gifts for mom, us and the grand kids. That is love.
I bet most of our parents are like this. Especially if they are grandparents. They love showering us with gifts. These are your customers, dear Mall Operators.
Our elders are like the massive trees in our gardens. They shelter us with shade and protect us by keeping the ground beneath us strong, well bound.
Do they not deserve the best of our love, respect and care?
UAE Malls, Please Revise Your Visitor Policies
UAE, and especially Dubai is built on trading. We connect with nations on the east, west, north and south through trade.
Therefore, Shopping is in this nation’s DNA.
We love shopping so much so that we dedicate an entire month to a “Shopping Festival”.
So then, should we not make shopping a very fun and enjoyable experience for everyone?
Although, I grew up in Dubai but spent many years in the USA. While in the USA, I would boast about the hospitality and great malls of Dubai to my friends.
Unfortunately, malls in Dubai are not as hospitable anymore. About three or four years ago, all malls in Dubai systematically removed all seating facilities within the mall corridors and atriums. This is a very short-sighted and commercially poor decision. Here’s why.
Why UAE Mall Policies Are Economically Unsound
UAE boasts of some of the biggest malls.
- The Burj Khalifa website, describes Dubai Mall as: “At 12 million sq ft, the mall’s total area is equivalent in size to 200 soccer pitches.”
- Mall of Emirates is 2.4 Million Square Feet
- Ibn BatutaMall: 5.2 Million Square Feet
- Deira City Centre: 1.1 Million Square Feet
- Nakheel Mall at the Palm Jumeirah, 1.1 Million Square Feet
While I am a fairly fit person as I jog about 8 km every day, yet even I need to rest and sit for few minutes if I am to traverse 1.1 million to 12 million square feet of mall space.
So, how do you expect the elderly or pregnant women to maneuver through a mall maze without a place to sit down and catch their breath every so often? Especially if they are carrying shopping bags? I know, I know, some malls have conceirge services to carry your bags, but that is not the point.
Let Them Eat Cake!
Although Marie Antoinette possibly didn’t say, “Let them eat cake”, unfortunately, the messages I have received from certain malls have been just as tone-deaf.
One mall suggested that my elderly parents should walk to the food court if they cannot walk anymore. Or that they should walk to a restaurant or coffee shop and spend 30 minutes to an hour there.
I am trying my very best not to show how frustrating this response is.
Let me tell you why this advice is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
- The elderly like my parents, have a lot of discretionary income and they like to shop for gifts for all their loved ones. They do not wait for special occasions to give gifts.
- They won’t spend more than 1-2 hours in the mall.
- In the span of 1 hour, they will easily spend between AED 500 – AED 10,000
- If you insist, they spend in restaurants, at most they will spend AED 30. Is it better for the UAE economy to generate AED 30 per hour or AED 500 per hour?
- Most of us and especially most elderly will not use public toilets (eeeww). Elderly may have health concerns so that they will not use public toilets if they can help it.
- 50% of men over 50, 60% of men over 60, 70% of men over 70 and so on have some prostate related issues. Therefore, they will limit their food and water intake when they are outside like in a Mall. This is so that they will not have the urge to use the toilet. Besides, I’m genuinely wondering if the Covid19 virus got a special memo prohibiting it from entering toilets, and foodcourts?”. Because when management responds that the benches along mall corridors and atriums have been removed to protect the public from Covid19, you can see why such a response would drive even a half-wit like me up the wall. Besides, mall management removed the public seating much before the pandemic, three or four years ago.
- Many in UAE suffer from diabetes. This also makes those who suffer from it from drinking while outside, so they don’t have to use the toilet. This applies to pregnant women as well.
- Elderly women who have borne children also suffer from bladder issues. Again, they will limit their liquid and food intake.
- If we come to the mall, we want to shop not eat. Personally, I go to a mall coffee shop or restaurant only with an appointment to meet someone. I may or may not shop if I’m there to meet someone.
- In the past ten trips my parents have gone to the Mall, we left within 20 minutes because after we go to one shop, my dad needs to sit for a few minutes before going to the next. Since there weren’t any facilities to sit, we would leave. On the last six trips, my parents spent, AED 628.99, AED 543.98, AED 900, AED 417.45, AED 2,650, AED 6,500. These are all in single stores. If they could have rested in between shops, they would have spent much more.
BYOC – Bring Your Own Chair
Frustrated with the lack of empathy from malls, I finally bought a walking stick with a collapsible seat so my dad can spend at least an hour in the malls and not leave after twenty minutes.
Unfortunately, we were at Ibn Batuta Mall and were waiting for the car to pick us up outside. Dad tried to sit in this walking stick-chair. He fell down because the pavement was uneven. Even though there were seating available, we were prohibited from sitting in them. It is heart breaking to see such lack of empathy for people in general.
Go To Parks If You Want To Sit
I love the parks in UAE. Many suggested parks and while these well meaning responses, they are also not a solution. Parks won’t generate income from the elderly visiting them.
For the elderly, it is difficult to walk in the parks because there are lot of children running, riding bikes and scooters and they could crash into you at any time. Children should run free and I will never campaign for them to be restrained in parks. But it’s not as safe for the elderly, or people of determination to walk in the parks.
Malls are the only place now that we can easily enjoy for an hour or two, enjoying each other’s company while walking and shopping. Although I can understand it but I would never support it if malls said the elderly, the pregnant or the differently abled do not contribute to the mall economy, but this is entirely not true.
What We Need
Covid19 lockdown has been debilitating for all, but especially for the elderly. My father has been working since he was 18 even while attending university full time. He has been in Dubai for 55 years. He still goes to the office. We should all be so lucky to be this energetic and full of life even in our 70’s.
His Highness Sheikh Hamdan promotes fitness and in October every year we participate in the 30 X 30 fitness challenge. But, His Higness Sheikh Hamdan does not want us to stop exercising after October. So, please don’t suggest that the elderly should just get a wheelchair.
We cannot measure every life based on statistics and actuarial calculations. We shall all become old and may suffer poor health in our old age. If we are lucky, perhaps we will retain our zest for life and our mental agility. Let us be empathetic to all. Let us allow each of us to live our fullest lives without compromising our dignity.
We must cultivate empathy and make it one of the most critical part of all decision-making processes.
Last year, the UAE announced Golden Visa’s, especially for retirees.
How will malls welcome these rich retirees? Will they be allowed to sit in between shopping or would the malls direct them to a food court?
I wish you and your loved one’s great health, happy new year and a most dignified life.
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