I’ve been thinkin’ a lot about empathy recently. I’m trying to be open with people in my life apropos me not liking being near other people.
Here’s a fun game that everyone can play:
- Find someone that enjoys ten pin bowling.
- Tell them that you do not enjoy ten pin bowling.
They will simply not understand. I have tried this with pretty much everyone on earth and they’re all the same. Here’s an example conversation:
Me: Do you like ten pin bowling?
Them: Oh yeah! Who doesn’t!
Them: [head explodes]
Now, find another one, but don’t tell them you don’t like ten pin bowling (seriously, their heads just explode and they’re of no further use to you, you have to plan this shit out). Ask if they consider themselves and empathetic person. They will, of course.
Ask them if they are capable of feeling empathy for people just like them. “Of course”, they will say in italics. Like, duh.
Ask them if they are capable of feeling empathy for people that are not like them. “Of course”, they will perhaps say more carefully. “That’s what empathy is, right?”
“Great, walk me through the thought process of a pedophile. Leave out the actual kiddy fiddling, just how they might feel about children in general, about their desire to mess with them sexually. Walk me through how you imagine that makes them feel.”
“Jesus, no! I’m not going to act out some filthy…”
“So, you don’t have empathy for pedophiles?”
“Of course not!”
“Aah, now we’re getting somewhere. You like fishing?”
“What? Like, with a rod? No not really.”
“OK, so tell me about fishermen. What do they like about fishing?”
“I don’t know, it’s stupid, just standing…”
“Stop. Shush. Shut up. You are not an empathetic person. You like people that are like you. You understand people that are like you. You have no desire to understand people that aren’t like you, and that’s just fine. You don’t need to. But you should be aware that the little gold trophy one deserves for genuine empathy does not belong on your shelf of personality achievements.”
The person has walked away now but I’m still talking.
“It isn’t too late, though. Empathy is something that can be developed. Start small, come to terms with the fact that some people don’t like your favourite food. Dwell on that, know that fact. Many many people don’t like your favourite TV show. Shit loads of people hate your cat and its stupid face. There is no good or bad in this. Just is. Once you feel you’ve got the hang of the inane stuff, step it up a notch, try to understand people that do things that you don’t like (you do what with sundried tomatoes?). Some people steal washing off of other people’s lines. Some actually, literally, club baby seals. Some rape babies*. If you can empathise with someone doing something you find utterly reprehensible, congratulations, you are a black belt empathiser.”
Yes, it was trophies, now it’s a coloured-belt ranking system**. Later I might make it a badge of some sort. Like scouts have.
But it’s slippery slope***, isn’t it? Am I sure that understanding doesn’t imply condoning? I mean, if I can imagine being in someone’s shoes, I’m kinda telling myself that this is OK. I’m in a way becoming that person. I don’t want to be that person. Best I don’t try to understand them.
Let’s get back to ten pin bowling. Or less specifically, extroversion and introversion. I’ve found that if I feel like opening up to someone about my deep dark feelings and general dislike of being in large groups of people, it’s a good idea to first suss out if they have at least some beginner-level empathy badge.
If they don’t, but I tell them how I feel, and they care about me, I’m going to get weird fake annoying empathy which goes something like “Oh we all sometimes don’t look forward to big events, but you’ll have fun once you’re there and you’ll be glad you went afterwards.”
If I hear that one more time I’ll fucking scream. “You are describing you. Not me. I will dread it before hand. Feel uncomfortable and awful during, and regret going afterwards. I am not wrong, and I am not lying to you.”
I have decided that I will offer people the opportunity to punch me in the face as hard as they can in exchange for me not going somewhere. It’s a pity it has to come down to “I don’t like 80’s themed dress-up parties in the same way that you don’t like being punched in the face.”
But I can’t say that, I can’t get mad, because they’ll feel like they deserve a gold star/badge/belt/trophy for trying to understand me. They were just trying to help.
They will conclude that if the dread-before/be-fine-afterwards hypothesis is not true, I must just be weird. I will feel a little bit shitter than before, and we will all move on with our lives.
* I’ve been thinking a lot about pedophiles recently (shoots from a seed planted by Amy Lykins). For some percentage of these people, it’s an unwanted urge that they have and they try everything they can do to be rid of it. It’s really hard to even think about it without judgement. Near impossible to have a public discussion about it without judgement. Even writing this here I want to put disclaimers everywhere that it’s awful because somehow understanding is getting a little close to saying its OK. But it’s fucking not, OK?
Making it impossible to discuss a problem is absolutely the best way to hamper addressing said problem. And if you ever accuse someone of condoning a particular action just by discussing it (sex, catholics, etc.) then fuck you for making the world a worse place.
** I wonder if colourblind karate people get unexpectedly kicked in the face a lot? “Jesus, didn’t see that coming, you’re pretty good for a greyish belt!”