Tag Archives: Empathy

Sensitivity, Not Senselessness

Ralph-Tresvant-Sensitivity

“I’m not your man, not Ralph Tresvant, not Ronnie Romance…no, Ma.”

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I’m a sensitive guy. If you’re laughing already, it’s probably because you’ve mistaken my version of sensitivity for the cartoonishly effeminate variety of tenderness that has come to permeate the significance of that word. No, I’m not suggesting that I’d be anyone’s first choice for a marathon session of Lifetime TV shows…unless we’re talking about The Client List starring Jennifer Love Hewitt…’cause I’d probably watch that…a lot. But be that as it may, what I meant was that I usually demonstrate an acute awareness of others’ feelings. Awareness of said feelings and giving a single, tender fuck are disparate things, however, and that makes me wonder, at what point should I care more about your feelings than my own?

Assuming that we’re reasonable individuals endowed with a healthy sense of fairness, our inner arbiter of justice should assess our position when our emotional needs conflict with a fellow traveler’s and determine whether or not to reconsider our stance, moderate it so as to reach a compromise, or maintain it and respectfully tell that trick to back the hell on up. What surprises me is that the inner arbitration process seems to be super freakin’ spotty for a lot of folks.

Here’s a true story to clarify my point. It happens to embody the everyday drama of which VH1 reality shows are made, which is good since most of you are about as trifling as a pimp at a Bangkok orphanage.

Anyway, years ago I hooked up with this woman named Olivia. And by “hooked up” I mean “came to know” and by “came to know” I mean “we got naked and bumped into each other repeatedly while genitally interlocked.” Many years later we were reintroduced and began hanging out sporadically. While there were multiple instances of flirtation then, there was no more having of the sex. More importantly, not once was there a hint that we were remotely interested in spending consistent time together, let alone seriously dating. In fact, we regularly told each other about the people that we were seeing, and she almost always brought someone along with her when we met up. In other words, our relationship had all of the intimacy of a live-streamed cuckholdry session.

Well, one time Vicky’s friend Olivia accompanied her. We hit it off famously, and started to hang out without Olivia. Eventually, it became apparent to me that we had big-time chemistry, so I confronted Vicky about what I sensed. She couldn’t deny it. Granted, she couldn’t speak at all since my tongue was halfway down her throat, but still. All that was left was for the two of us to tell Olivia, and we assumed that she’d be surprised, but happy.

We were wrong. Like, real wrong. Like, “You dirty, lying bitch, you’re not my friend, he’s pathetic, it’s never gonna work, and give me back my fucking Helmut Lang dress,” wrong. According to Olivia, she’d always had feelings for me, even if nobody (including me) had a clue about them. By kindling a relationship, we were guilty of betraying her trust. Of course, I say that we were only guilty of miscalculating the ratio of rational thought to lunatic self-absorption in Olivia’s spoiled head.

its-all-about-me

No, it’s not. Unless you’re my girlfriend or wife
and you happen to be reading this…in which case, it is.

I mean, come on, dude. Olivia and I had had plenty of time to get something going. We’d seen one another multiple times, and neither of us had felt the urge to put in any effort to increase either the frequency or intensity of our meetings. There’s an old saying where I’m from: “If a cow has but one udder, it’s probably a bull.” OK, I made that up, but the point is that you can’t squeeze milk from a bull’s penis. It’s either there, or it isn’t…and it isn’t, ’cause bulls don’t orgasm milk.

What gives Olivia the right to stake a retroactive claim on something that was never hers? Her preternaturally late-blooming feelings? Well, la-di-da. Congratulations, Lady O, you’ve got feelings. Welcome to the club! You might have noticed that your friend Vicky and her man are also members, which is probably why they couldn’t make it to your initiation ceremony: they’re busy expressing theirs to each other in a very loud and physical way. Now, sit your Narcissistic Personality Disorder having ass down.

Look, it’s well and good for us to make our sentiments known to those around us, otherwise we can’t expect them to understand who we are and how they can help us live a more fulfilling life. As a corollary, it’s right and responsible to acknowledge emotions expressed to us in good faith, allowing them to shape our thoughts and actions accordingly so as to function as supportive, empathic beings. With that said, the phrase “in good faith” is key in that last sentence.

Your feelings are important, but no more so than anyone else’s, and their mere existence doesn’t make them unassailable. Emotions are not weapons to be drawn at random, pointed willy-nilly at others like some drunken, Old West villain, blasting away until you get what you want. When they are, I say that those on the other side have every right to return fire, or do like Vicky and I did: let the fools keep shooting until they run out of bullets, then laugh with everyone else as they stumble out of town, tripping over their inflated ego.

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Filed under Scissortales, Social Etiquette

Excuse Me. No, Seriously.

So, I guess we're ALL losers then?

Most English speakers are familiar with the saying that goes something like this, “Excuses are like assholes: everybody’s got one and they all smell like shit.”  I don’t know about you, but the sentiment behind that fragrant phrase never quite seemed to connect with me.

Part of the problem I have with it is the fact that I just don’t like big old blanket statements.  Almost nothing is a simple matter of black or white: the human experience is just way too complicated to assume that any given behavior is flawed in every given context.  Is there really no situation in which an excuse is justifiable?  I mean, come on.  There are times when crap just happens that throws off your ability to accomplish whatever the hell it is that you set out to do, or would like to see done.  It’s just humanly impossible to prepare for every eventuality.  But that doesn’t stop us from thinking that everybody EXCEPT US should be able to do just that.

The classic example of the above phenomenon is the tendency for the masses to attribute a bad economic climate to the president.  Of course, anyone who bothered to pay attention during the first week of undergrad macroeconomics knows that this makes about as much sense as blaming an overgrown rodent for an extra long winter.  Matter of fact, you don’t even need any undergraduate credits to realize that our economy is a massive, tremendously unwieldy beast that we can only hope to contain and never control…kinda like drunk, white lacrosse players at an Asian sorority’s toga party.  Yeah, you lost your job, which sucks, but the president couldn’t help you even if she wanted to.  (Note: If she’s Republican, she doesn’t want to.)  In fact, my main issue with our hatred for excuses lies within that example of public ignorance regarding presidential impotence.

Things don’t always work out, despite our best laid plans.  We’ve all been there.  We’re all familiar with the accompanying feelings of disappointment.  So, where’s the empathy?

Psychologists have named this gap between our ability to enumerate the myriad reasons why we failed to accomplish a task, down to the minutest detail, while simultaneously being unable to comprehend why our “lazy” or “idiotic” or “irresponsible” colleague “dropped the ball”.  They call it the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE).  In short, it means that we’re really good at understanding why things go wrong for us, but are equally lousy when it comes to appreciating the snags that others encounter.  (I think that this is just a specific instance of our outlandishly selfish natures, but that’s a topic for another day.)

By the way, the implications of FAE reach far beyond you being a jerk to your direct report when that TPS report doesn’t get filed on time.  It operates on a grand scale, too.  Fill in the blank: “Those damn ____.  They’re so lazy.  That’s why they never get ahead.”  Sound familiar?

In the end, it might behoove us all to spend a bit more time thinking about the many obstacles that can disrupt our flow.  Remember the sick person that delays the train and makes you late for a meeting.  Recall the horrible sound system that totally killed your opening night performance.  Reminisce about the condom that broke and forced you into a shotgun wedding with last summer’s booty call.  Recollect that until 1965 (little more than a decade before I was fucking BORN), you might not have been able to vote if you were a descendant of slaves.  Perhaps then we’d show a little more understanding for each other, stop being so self-centered, and get our heads out of our asses…unless we’re looking for an excuse.

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Filed under Social Issues