A Note on “EMPATHY”

By Nadine Schwizer

Let’s have a look at the word empathy: the OED defines the term as “[t]he ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.”

Lately, I’ve come to ask myself two questions:
1) What the actual fuck happened to that ability OR where are all the empathetic people?!
2) When did empathy change from being an ability to being a fucking disability?!

I consider myself to be an empathetic person. Growing up, I’ve always regarded it as a skill, an advantage, and, most of all, as a characteristic to be proud of. Now however, I have seriously reached the point where I’m starting to see that empathy is everything but an advantage in this world. All my life I’ve tried to put myself in other people’s shoes, to really understand what is going on in people’s heads and to see why people act the way they act.

You wanna know what it brought me? Absolutely nothing! Nothing but pain and disappointment. Because there’s one very simple and not so marginal problem with being an empathetic person: others aren’t!

What’s the use of spending your energy on trying to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people around you when doing so you forget about your own needs and feelings? And even worse, what if that happens while nobody empathises with you?

In theory (as the OED states), empathy is the (beautiful) skill of understanding and appreciating the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. But I must say that this definition has a serious flaw – It simply doesn’t work in reality! Empathy only works (as in, it actually works for all the people involved and especially for the one who empathises) when the empathetic person – that is, the person who thinks about others and their feelings before they do something that might hurt those others – also receives the exact same thing in return.

Now, isn’t that how the whole system of different people living together peacefully is supposed to work? Isn’t that the whole notion of give-and-take after all? Yes, it is!

But, my dear co-empathisers, let me tell you: there are only few people like us left in this world! And that is exactly why empathy – a skill that should be an advantage in theory –  turns into a huge disadvantage for people like us.

Knowing that, we’ve got two options now: either we also turn into egoists and just don’t watch out for other people’s thoughts and feelings anymore or we only give our empathy to those people who give us the same in return. I am going to try the latter – in the hope that I will find those people who deserve to experience my skill. Because after all, it is an ability, and just because most people don’t possess it anymore doesn’t mean that I have to give up on it too.

But keep this one lesson in mind, folks: stop empathising with people who don’t do the same with you, or you will only get hurt in this wicked world we live in.

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One response to “A Note on “EMPATHY”

  1. Might be a compatibility issue; I find myself being more empathetic towards some than others. I know the kind of “problem” you describe, but I personally don’t think empathy is a binary character trait that one does or does not have. Maybe it is possible to deploy both of your solutions to a degree.

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