The “chameleon” of human emotions. The ability to “feel” what others feel.
With empathy, just like any emotion, some are more capable than others.
ANGER: some of us fly into blind rages while others seethe.
HAPPINESS: one 8-year old who screams as she unwraps the gift she’s asked for all year, another silently fights back a tear of gratitude,
SADNESS: Some collapse into tears while others internalize their grief.
Empathy operates the same way: there are some who cannot help but feel the loss of others, almost as if it were their own, and there are some who can somehow internally justify the pulling of a trigger or the pushing of a button.
Me? I found my empathy taking a weird form yesterday and today.
There was the predictable: putting myself in the place of a victim, a first responder (“I would have done that“), someone fleeing from the scene (“I would have done that“) a family member of an 8-year-old boy whose life ended because he was at the finish line to hug his dad.
The Good Guys.
But I also, against my own will, began to attempt to put myself in the place of someone who triggered the bomb.
My empathy paints in dark colors sometimes.
It’s all projecting. It all is. It would be offensive to say that I am capable of manufacturing anything close to what the victims lost, just as it would be offensive to say that I can understand what would cause someone to follow through with detonating a bomb or pulling a trigger.
But I can speak to what resonates in me to mirror those emotions: loss, grief, disconnect, the desire to be a part of something bigger.
The anger that can be so easily misdirected at predetermined enemies in the aftermath.
I don’t have any answers. I have vague guesses, the same as anyone. Whether the bomber was an angry white “Patriot” or an angry brown Muslim, or an angry green teenager, I imagine that they thought they were doing something bigger, something more important than the lives that would be lost in the process.
That generally seems to be the way.
It’s the same thought, by the way, that sends young men into wars, drops bombs on civilians, fires rockets into neighboring countries, and considers “bombs” over “families” as the most powerful suffix of “Nuclear”.
I’m not here to cast a blanket statement that all such causes are wrong. I’m aware that it’s a sliding scale; all wars are hell, but some wars are just.
Some are for the purpose of preventing more things like what we saw in Boston yesterday.
(I’m also not here to definitively say what percentage of those wars accomplish their stated goal, though I am also aware that “I’m not here to…” comes loaded with implications.)
But I do suspect that if the bomber had spent a week in Dorchester living with the Richard family, he could never have detonated the bomb, knowing that instead of “*AN* 8-year-old boy” who died, it would be Martin. And it wouldn’t be “*A* 5-year old” who lost a leg, it would be Jane.
As best I can assume empathy for those devoid of it, I just can’t imagine things would have turned out the same.
So now the onus falls on us.
To have empathy where a lack of it has ruptured the lives of so many.
I’m not reminding you to swear and punch a wall like I did yesterday when I heard about Martin Richard. That visceral reaction is easy to have. I’m asking you to do something much more difficult: I’m asking you to temper your initial reaction with Empathy.
I’ll tell you what that initial reaction will be.
If he or she claims to uphold beliefs that you have, you will internally distance yourself from them. “they got it wrong”, “they don’t represent me”.
If he or she claims to uphold beliefs that you don’t have, it’s going to be easy to decry everyone in that group as evil.
Muslim brotherhood, Tea Party, Anarchists, Palestinians, Israelis, Russian Drug-lords, Siths, Donkey Kong…
But I’m asking you to imagine if it was your own brother or husband or child who did this. Imagine what circumstances took place to put them in a position to believe the deception that whatever cause they were championing was worth this loss of life. Imagine the disconnect they began to feel in the months and years leading up to this. Imagine the guilt, watching the news and seeing the faces of the victims. Alternately, imagine the darkness of living in a mind who felt no guilt when they saw those faces.
I’m not asking to you justify this horrific action. I’m not even asking you to Not Be Angry. Of course we’re angry. We should be angry.
But in addition, I’m asking you to have empathy for the bad guys.
Because that’s what keeps you from becoming one of them.