Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Empathy

When I sit at my desk in the morning, checking my Google Reader is on of my first activities...it takes a couple of minutes, keeps me updated on my blog-friends, and allows me to prepare to start working (other activities...checking personal email, the news and the stock market). Often, I am spurred to respond and leave Reader to leave a comment on a post somewhere.

(Occasionally, I will leave a witty, sarcastic comment that badly misses the mark on the sarcasm and requires some explaining;-) Like this one.)

So, this morning, I read this from Alana Margaret at Runaway Bunny. I'm not entirely sure how I found her blog, but I added it maybe four months ago and have been reading ever since, even after a change in address. She is, by any measure, a very thoughtful blogger, but I don't know her at all beyond what she has written publicly.  (Let's be honest...the fact that she is a baker/ice cream maker/pastry chef makes me want to be best friends with her). This morning's post made me go back and read some of the archives, which has revealed that we have somewhat similar backgrounds...or at least some key life events that are similar.

Then a weird thing happened, though...I couldn't respond. I just didn't know exactly what to say or how to say it. I kinda knew what I felt, but it wasn't coming out of my head and onto the screen at all. At least not in a way that didn't make me look like a colossal bitch. Which is actually making me think that maybe I am a colossal bitch (keep reading...there is more evidence to support this).

On and off for about four hours, I tried to formulate my thoughts into a coherent response...which seemed to be turning into a twelve paragraph ramble of inconsistent thoughts and somewhat counter-productive anger. Whatever I wrote, I just felt really small and bitter, and I felt like I wasn't getting out what I wanted to say.

I was struck by how differently we viewed a subject, in this case addiction, that we seem to have had similar exposure to. She starts (I am paraphrasing...and hope I am not mis-characterizing) by almost apologizing for having such a deep empathy for people suffering from addiction, for being blessed to not be afflicted with addiction herself, and for not having more time to volunteer with those that are afflicted.

It is, to me, a remarkable sentiment that indicates a humanity that we should all aspire to. And a level of humanity that I, for one, am not remotely close to.

She once wrote, of her mother's long-ago addiction "It never occurred to me that I needed to forgive my mother." That breaks my heart a little bit...not because it is sad - her magnanimity is, in fact, incredibly uplifting - but because it makes me sad that I am so far from being in that place. I don't know that I have forgiven my mother entirely, or if I ever will, and I can't even imagine being in a place where I don't think that what she did to me endowed me with the right to grant or withhold that forgiveness.

Is that petty of me? Yes, it probably is. But that just sounds "fair" to me, despite fair having nothing to do with anything. I never got any say in whether or not to live with a raging alcoholic, and she never chose to listen to my pleas to stop...and as compensation for that, I get the sole and unimpeachable right to decide when, and if, to grant forgiveness. This is not, I know, my most endearing side...

It's a weakness that I am aware of: I am not a very empathetic person (that extends to subjects far beyond substance abuse). If the subject is something that I, maybe arbitrarily, find to be unimportant whining, then I am a terrible listener. I have a frighteningly low tolerance for complaints that I deem to be trivial, or for problems that I think are self-inflicted. For much of my life, I have had very real problems that took up all of my attention, and there was often little help in solving those problems.

I don't have nearly the same kinds of problems these days, but I don't feel like I have ever emotionally opened up the space to care about other peoples' problems in a way that is balanced and healthy. Often, I am unreasonably cynical and dismissive of personal "sob stories," and my snap judgements go to the things that the affected could have done to make his or her life better instead of the unfairness that caused their troubles.

It probably doesn't take a genius to figure out how I got here, or even to figure out some of the reasons that Alana and I may think about this particular subject differently. That, however, is neither here nor there, really. The relevant point is that she seems to see this through a much more humane lens than I do.

And I wish I was more like her.

6 comments:

laurwilk said...

Interesting post. This is a topic that has hit much too close to home recently (details on gchat) and I've stuggled with myself. I think I can forgive but then I can't forget. And when I can't forget, I can't trust. And when I can't trust, then I suppose I never really forgave.

But people certainly forgive and cope and move on in so many different ways. I don't know what's better or worse, healthier or easier, more virtuous or selfish.

Mrs. Adventure said...

I could have written this. Not as eloquently but damn dude. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.

As a child my mother was married to an alcoholic and I was abused because of it. Because SHE choose to stay - I feel that I'm entitled to decide if and when to forgive.

But I know I'm an asshole.

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks said...

Over the years, I've become much more empathetic to *some* people and *some* dilemmas. For a long time, I judged others from my own context of the world around me and therefore from my own perspective. The reality is, we each have unique contexts from which we live our lives. If I try to understand more about a person, their life, the major milestones in their life and so on, it's sometimes easier to understand why something I feel is no big deal is such an issue for someone else. That said, even after taking their frame of reference, the reality is, a lot of people bitch and moan over the dumbest things (for which I have ZERO empathy, too).

Alana Margaret said...

Honestly, I don't necessarily think my way of dealing with it is healthier. I think it's pretty egotistical and codependent to think that my volunteering or not volunteering will somehow make a difference, that I hold myself personally responsible for every addiction story I read.

I do think there are things that are unforgivable. Neither of my parents were ever abusive, though for a short time when I still lived with my mother we lived with my little brother's father who was, but except for throwing me across a room once, his main target was my mother. I also was lucky enough to have other family members (my grandparents) take me in and give me a pretty privileged upbringing and that's where my weird guilt comes in.

I have a lot of feelings, I'll probably email you more.

Accidentally Me said...

Yes please:-)

Lori S-C said...

I think you are judging yourself too harshly.... You've developed skills to survive and thrive in your life. Some people are solvers who figure out a plan to take care of what needs to be done... others are nurturers who take care of the social-emotional part of being. Both are necessary in the world. What you aren't thinking about is the fact that you have used the energy from your experiences to deal with very real problems and very real issues. Cynical? Dismissive? I don't think so.... You have used your knowledge, skills and experiences in a different way...to build you! and guide munchkin into one heck of a young woman with a trail blazing future ahead of her! And now raising twins! Yeesh.
I remember reading a study about different children having different personality types (about half a lifetime ago) that were either dramatists and patterners...
The dramatists dealt with problems in one way,while the patterners in another...
It would be one boring world if everyone looked through the same lens... Yours is the right one for you!