Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A little empathy

It's so easy to get caught up in thinking this shite is important, the things that appear online daily, featured on the so-called news sites, including those of legacy organizations like the New York Times or the Washington Post, stories about televised talent contests and people losing weight, or else bombings and earthquakes halfway around the world -- like what in god's name can I do about earthquakes except empathize with its victims? Hell, most of my empathy is used up anyway, spent weeping at the movies, giving so much of it over to the shadow world of narrative fiction, that I have barely an effin shot-glass worth's left to spare on Real Life.

What ever happened to sympathy? That's what we used to 'express' -- sympathy. It may have been an act worth about one Hallmark card and a first-class stamp, but at least we knew how to do it. Our parents taught us. Sympathy is no longer enough. Nowadays our empathic gestures have got to be real, more authentic even than Real Life. We've got to understand the other person's plight.

Because I have so little left in my little pumphouse of empathy, I do my best to push back and ignore these heart-tugging stories with their cutesy photos and little video snippets, of dogs and horses, or else tornadoes and brush fires, my rational mind maintaining its distance, measuring how much true grit it takes to avert one's eyes and ignore each corporately-sponsored call to feel something. To feel anything, a shiver of excitement, or fear, or pity. Cripes, it takes work to stay clear of the sentimental mode and part company with those who sit there and sigh, "Oh isn't it too bad?" Or "What a terrible thing. Those poor dears." Or "I feel so sorry for them. At least they're in the lord's hands now." Fat lot of good that'll do them.

When I listen to the conventional pieties of my fellow citizens, that's when I start to perspire. Effin instinct. I sniff myself and remember that I've forgotten to put deodorant on and so begin to detect that human stink I used to encounter in the poorer quarters of immigrant neighborhoods but which has now, thankfully, been all but eradicated in the neatly tended homes of their second and third generation offspring. We humans smell good if we smell at all. Even when we show empathy and our pants are on fire.

I mean jesus, one can only feel so much before numbness sets in, or callousness, or, worse still, an active enjoyment of the victim's distress. Sometimes I'm just one emotive step away from thinking that these people who play the victim bring it on themselves, living in flood zones, tinkering with fire, dealing drugs, engaging in unprotected sex, leaving their pets out in the backyard unattended. Hell, seat belts only save those who buckle up. No country can tailor its governing principles to cover those who take unsecured risks, unless they own that country's arse, like the big banks and multinationals do.

Just down the road a piece somebody's puppy got mauled by a bear yesterday. That's news. Meanwhile, the First Lady is planting veggies in the White House garden -- there's a book, no less -- and the President is lamenting the state of veterans' healthcare. That ain't news no matter what the pundits call it. That's just him showing empathy for America's broken warriors. He wants the rest of us to feel something too, while the real shite goes down elsewhere.

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