The Suppression Of Empathy


Lying to oneself is very problematic, especially in relation to how we wish to be and others to see us; it’s so exhausting you wonder why we bother. Certainly we would be far happier if we all made a pact to stop trying to be sexy, hip, intellectual or strong but we seem compelled to compete in this realm of smoke and mirrors. These are (on the face of it) at least positive assertions but so many are not.

The “I don’t Give A Fuck” Posture

This seems an odd thing to claim in itself. Other than some misguided idea of personal freedom, in practise it would make you such an abhorrent person your life would be a shallow and lonely one. The truth about the “I don’t give a fuck” people is (unless they’re a psychopath) they do give a fuck, so much of a fuck in fact that they have to keep repeating it like a mantra to keep up the pretence. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t mention it once, let alone once every 10 minutes. I suggest the next time someone tells you they don’t give a fuck, you should give them a desperately needed hug.

Truth Fundamentalism

“Don’t ask for my opinion if you don’t want the truth”. This sounds a perfectly reasonable position to take, however if you analyse it for a second what they are really saying is “My opinion is more important than your feelings”. “Telling it like it is” (a tag line for tabloid journalism, which in itself should raise suspicion) is a sign of someone with absolutely no social skills. We all tell those we care for difficult truths at times but there is being an honest friend and there is being an arrogant shit. Either that or they are (much like the “I don’t give a fuck” crowd) over-compensating and are so full of self-doubt that a clumsy attitude with sinister overtones is the only way they can deal with their deep insecurities.

So why does anyone believe a lack of empathy to be a source of pride? It isn’t only the purveyors of these strange opinions that buy into it.

Wanton Twattery

I’ve heard on many occasions. “Yeah he’s an arsehole but he knows it”. Well good for him but since when did that placate someone acting like a prick? In fact someone who isn’t aware at least has an excuse; ignorance and social awkwardness are marginally more forgivable than wanton twattery.

The Road To Hell

Then there’s the phrase (which both amuses and confuses me) “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. What exactly am I supposed to do with this information? Convert them to bad intentions? Perhaps the road to heaven is paved with those? After all, a tale of redemption is far more powerful than one of consistent kindness. Maybe the road to hell is heaven itself?

Set Your Empathy Free

Empathy is something I hold dear; it’s a fulfilling way to live a life. It works because it concentrates on the individual, you cannot empathise with a nation, not even your own, we simply aren’t wired that way. This is why patriotism leads to jaw-dropping acts of hypocrisy and why the shrillest patriot deep down truly hates their country, (more over-compensation and insecurity) always yearning for an era that has never existed.

It is also the reason why you can hate a country of millions, it has no face to empathise with save for a badly painted one of stereotype created with the brush of its enemies. Masses are infestations; little more than ants or rats, individuals are a harder thing to demonise. They have families, hopes, loves and fears. It’s easier to kill “The Hun”, “The Gooks” or “The Argies”, not so easy to destroy a German mother, a Vietnamese child or an Argentinean grandfather.

Having said all that, understanding does not always lead to positivity. There is a particular disdain reserved for the things we are ashamed of in ourselves. The ex-alcoholic has the least patience for the drunk and rags to riches businessmen often have the least sympathy for the poor. “If I can do it so can they.” Kicking the ladder away after you’ve climbed it simply cannot be justified.

Empathy and sensitivity are often seen as signs of weakness while cruelty and cynicism signs of strength, surely an inversion of the truth. If you are weak and fearful of being hurt you will close yourself off, the strong take risks, get hurt and try again, they are also those that live a fuller life. The sensitive are the bravest and strongest people I know.

So I say it loud and I say it proud, I’m sensitive and I do give a fuck!

 © Copyright Dean Stephenson 2012

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