Sympathy with empathy

No one’s pain is greater than their own.

It’s all relative you see.   Empathy and sympathy are fine, but it’s still no possible to truly feel what someone else does.   Sympathy?  Okay, you can tell someone is hurting and care about their feelings and respect their right to have them.  Empathy is a little misleading.   By definition, empathy is vicariously feeling the same thing as someone else is feeling.  The problem with that is, it’s impossible to really understand and feel someone else’s pain.  Even if we’ve been through similar circumstances, how it affects us, and the emotions it elicits is going to be totally unique to every individual.

My forth divorce (Yes, four.  Glutton for punishment) was a horrible affair.  It was a fight to the finish, with no regard to how much money the lawyers were taking or whoever else was affected.  I was even arrested and charged with something I didn’t do.   She knew I didn’t do it, but was being vindictive and cruel.    And boy, was I mad.  I’m not a violent person, but if I’d run into her on the street when I was released from jail, I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried to kill her.  (That moment passed, thankfully).  Years later, my girlfriend was also going through a nasty divorce.  It was also a wicked fight, with thousands and thousands of dollars to the attorneys and total rage against each other.  It was horrible.   Just like mine, right?  After all, I had been through the same thing, so I knew exactly what she was going through.

Wrong.

I had been divorced three times already (I believe I mentioned that).   In spite of the viciousness and hatred, I knew what to expect.  And I was at least partially responsible for what precipitated the breakup.  She on the other hand had been married to the same guy for 35 years.  She gave up a career to raise their kids, went back to work so her ex could go to school and move into a new one.  She helped him start a business, and worked for nothing while he pulled company funds out for his personal use, and lived like a king.  And then she dealt with the IRS and Dept of Revenue to clean up the mess when he got caught.   And then she caught him having a torrid affair.   He was caught red handed, dead to rights.    The feeling of emotional betrayal were huge.    And the fact that he had money to fight and she had nothing was overwhelming.  It was a nasty divorce.   Mine was a nasty divorce.   And I could no more feel what she was feeling than I could fly to the moon.   Sympathy?  Sure.  While I don’t know how she really felt, I could appreciate that divorces were hard in ways someone who had never been divorced could understand.

But it’s still her pain, and her pain alone.

I don’t really like my job.   Well, the job itself isn’t bad, but it comes with a tremendous amount of stress and can easily be overwhelming.    One co-worker in the same position loves his work.   He’s always positive, and rolls with whatever punches get thrown.  Yet another co-worker is absolutely miserable.   We all do the same thing, but it’s a matter of where we each sit with it.   But there again, there’s more to that story.    The guy who loves his job is by nature one of the calmest person I’ve ever met.   He studies some type of Indian meditation and Gandhi-like approach to life.    You never see him agitated by anything.   His kids are grown and gone, and living their own good lives.   My wretched mate has all kinds of issues going on outside of work.   He’s suffering through some marriage strife, he has three small kids that are always either sick or in trouble.  His own health isn’t the greatest either.  So it’s no wonder that his attitude is so horrible.   So we all have the same job, but our experiences are totally different.  How can I empathize with either?

It’s still their pain, and their joy.  Not mine.

So this seems pretty obvious, right?  My experiences and your experiences are going to be based on everything that has happened, and is happening to us individually.  Everything that has happened in our lives has led us up to this exact point, and no one’s path is the same.  And the point we’re at is going to affect the feeling and reactions to any event, even if the event is the same.

So, riddle me this.

Why are we so quick to judge others for their actions?  That guy driving slow in front of you is an idiot, right?   Well, maybe this idiot was in a horrific wreck before, and this is his first time on the road since it happened.  Or a thousand other reasons to explain what’s happening.  Not so idiotic to me.  Of course, he may just be an idiot, but that’s not up to anyone to decide.   The fat person next to you on the airplane may have developed an eating disorder after being brutally abused as a child (That is not unusual for abuse cases).   So keep your fat ass off the plane.  It’s ridiculous for you to me inconvenienced just because they want to see their mother before she dies, and to be there when she’s buried.  Or, she may just be a fat pig with no self-control.    Even the beast that abused the young child can have their own horrible experience that drove them to that.  That is an unforgivable act, and regardless of the motivation cannot be allowed.   But we have a system to make that judgement.   Theoretically those judgments are based on careful evaluation of facts, and deliberation by twelve honest people.  Okay, that system is broken, but it still doesn’t give us the right to make our own judgements.  What does it say?  Judge the sin, not the sinner.

But really I’m just talking about everyday life.  All the daily aggravations and how we respond to them and to others.   We have a choice.  We can hold everyone to the same standards and opinions we have, or acknowledge that everyone has your unique experience or temperament.  There is no way to control what happens to us.   Past history that influences who we are cannot be changed. What can be controlled is how we react to ourselves, and to others.   There is no sympathy, or empathy involved.

There’s just acceptance.

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