Is empathy a blessing or a curse? The answer should be obvious, but sometimes I don’t know. Let me rethink/rephrase that: it’s a curse when most people don’t have it. It would be a blessing if everyone did have it. Can we teach it in schools?
The other night I watched Argo. Have you seen it? It’s intense. From the beginning I was a nervous wreck. But not only was I deeply affected by the plight of the six American individuals who were attempting to exfiltrate Iran, but by the chaotic opening scenes in which a voiceover gave a summary of the political and social landscape in Iran. I get lost in my daily routine of work, house, kids, repeat and every now and again I’m jolted back to the reality that millions of people around the world face every day. Poverty, starvation, humiliation, injury, death, loneliness, and worse. It affects me deeply not only because every mother around the world loves her child in the same way, but because I don’t know what to do about it. Feeling isn’t enough — these people need action.
I don’t watch the news because I find it so upsetting. Am I really better off knowing the horrors that people inflict on each other, and for what? An Eastern healer recently told me that I’m oversensitive. I feel too much. I need to let go of things. I remember watching footage of the Gulf War in the early ’90s while sitting around the dinner table with my family and being unable to halt the flood of tears. My parents thought I was being ridiculous. But all I could think about were all those lives being affected. The people in Iraq. The families of the soldiers going off to fight. I didn’t give two shits about the political ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’. All I could think about were the millions of people, families, social structures that were being affected and/or obliterated for no good reason.
Yesterday while washing broccoli collected from my Dad’s garden I cried for the kids in detention centres in and around Australia. Triple J’s Hack reporters were outlining cases of children and teenagers who were self-harming or contemplating suicide. I listened to the political pros and cons of this scheme and that, but front and centre of my mind was: kids are depressed, self-harming and attempting suicide. How can that not be the focus of the solution?
Empathy often feels like a curse for me. Can’t I just concentrate on my own life and happiness and forget about the plight of people I don’t know? But then I think that if everyone felt the same as me, or more like me, then that would be the starting point from which to solve the problems that affect people. How would I feel if I were in my enemy/business rival/homeless person’s shoes?
How can we teach empathy?
I want to enter a short story competition. I have a few ideas about what to write. Well, two ideas. They are vastly different to each other which is why I may be having trouble starting. Actually, the reason I am having trouble starting is because I have trouble starting everything. Anything. “Overthink” is an understatement when it comes to me. I have a really vivid interior monologue going on all the time and I can never get anything out of my head and into the world. It’s causing me problems. I think all the time. ALL the time. But I never actually do anything. I have vivid pictures in my head of all the things I will do, could do, should do, want to do, am able to do, have the potential to do. Day-changing things. Finance-changing things. Happiness-changing things. Self-esteem-changing things. Life-changing things. No, that is not overstating it.
I became obsessed with JK Rowling this week. She is so insightful. Actually, she is just such a goddamned hard worker. (I think I am afraid of hard work. How did this happen?) She knew what she wanted to do and she slogged away at it until she bloody well did it. The idea came to her on a train journey and she didn’t even have a pen to write it down. I tell my children stories all the time. They love them. People tell me I should write them down. Then I try to write them down and I literally can’t get a word onto a page. I spoke at length at [sic] a friend of mine about a topic I was passionate about. I think I literally spoke for half an hour straight and laid down some compelling, well reasoned argument. “You should write that all down,” she said, “in an article at least.” I think I managed to get a sentence or two down and then kaputski. Nothing.
[Two-year-old just asked to do a wee. Good boy!]
Someone suggested that I start with a skeleton, some high-level ideas, and then flesh it out. I can’t even get the thoughts to hang together in a straight line. Did JK Rowling start with a plan? What does a first draft even look like? In high school I got straight A+s for all my English and English Literature assignments and exams, and I don’t think I redrafted a single one. That sounds terribly obnoxious and full of myself, but it has caused a real problem for me. I’ve never learned how to work. REALLY work. You know, plug away at something, hone it, craft it, until I’ve gotten it just right. The art of the draft. Maybe high-school English is as good as I will ever be? Talk about peaking early.
[Sister’s umbrella just got stolen from right under her nose. Arsehole. Who DOES shit like that??]
But I’m writing now. Maybe these exercises help? I’ll try another one. I will try to be disciplined about it. One per day? Nah. My friend F says ‘just write when you can’. So I will.