Posted by: mydarkestplaces | September 11, 2011

In which I posit a question…

The other night I asked a question of Twitter, and here I’ll ask it again: would you rather be completely unfeeling or so empathetic it hurts?

This came up as I sat in the dark watching the DVD of the  final performance of RENT, bawling my eyes out. If you’re not familiar with RENT (and if you aren’t, you and I seriously need to have a talk), it’s about a group of 20-somethings dealing with AIDS and living in Alphabet City, New York, on a limited income.

As I sat in my room, bawling over the pain of fictional characters, I came to a conclusion: it is freaking exhausting going through life feeling everyone else’s pain. There are days I dream of turning off my emotions. How much better if I don’t have to think about what so-and-so might be going through facing this-that-or-the-other situation. If I don’t have to think about what I can do to make someone’s life easier, better, less painful.

I do realize that if I was granted the ability to not care, it would fundamentally change who I am as a person. On the other hand, there are days I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Maybe it’s a “grass is greener” thing, but I sometimes find myself daydreaming about not caring, about being able to cut corners guilt free, about half-assing things I know other people would.

Why do I have to think about how my actions impact others? Why do I have to worry about how what I do will affect how others see me? Why do I have to be SO tense when I think about other people in my life and what they may be going through? Between these things and crying over other people’s pain, there’s so little time left for me. For my own thoughts, to work through my own issues.

Among the people I talked to today about this was my friend, Eric. Eric is an incredible human being in every sense of the word. I told him about my thoughts last night and he comforted me by saying, “I often feel that way. And it’s fine, because some day there’s going to come a time when we’re all going to have to be one. Where the world is going to have to come together and stop being so insular. And that’s when we’re going to effect the most good.” (In the interest of full disclosure, this is not a direct quote, more an approximate bastardization of the most important points I gathered from his conversation.)  This echoed an equally reassuring tweet from a friend there, @FlotsamDiaries wrote, “Most good done in the world happens because somebody hurt for something/someone.”  I guess neither of these really help in the short term of “dear god make it stop hurting,” but it is nice to think that in the long run, I can make a real difference just by doing what I do.

My thoughts are so varied on this. As I sit here typing this, I feel better about being empathetic. On the other hand, if I choose the wrong movie to watch tonight things might change rapidly. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? Which would you choose?


  1. empathy please! i know a guy who has aspergers, and he’s fucking miserable. i guess i wouldn’t be miserable if i chose “completely unfeeling”, i would never experience joy, or love, or any of the things that make being alive worthwhile. though often painful, the ability to understand and relate to human emotions is a superpower. even if my super empathy made me hurt most of the time, the joyful bits would make it worth the ride.

  2. Case in point: I can hear Taps playing from the TV in the other room. That has me tearing up. I mean – obviously there are memories associated with that song, especially on a day like today – but to be completely unfeeling means I wouldn’t hear three notes and want to cry.

    Basically this is all bananas.

    When there’s so much bad going on, it’s tough for the good to shine through. And there’s only so long that one can subsist on second hand tidbits of good…

    • yeah, but to be completely emotionless… how is that living? you’d be a robot. your laugh lights up the whole world. if you were emotionless, your laugh wouldn’t exist.

      but i get you. sometimes shit is hard and it seems like emotion isn’t worth the trouble. but i PROMISE, it is.

      p.s. taps makes me cry too.

  3. No feelings is an easier way to go through life, but empathy and emotion makes so much of it worth it.

    I tend to try to not feel feelings, but they often sneak in. Sneaky feeling feelings!!

  4. It’s funny – just was chatting with some of my barista friends at Starbucks (in Freeport – no worries, not cheating on Bard :), and it became even more evident why it’s better to be feeling. They were telling me about someone who, on the Day That Shall Not Be Named But Was Rather A Big Deal, kept trying to one up the pain of others with her “sad” story.

    Which isn’t to discount her pain. I’m sure it was significant in her life, but her insensitivity to others was just glaring. Not to mention the poor customer service of involving her customers in the one-up-manship…

    I guess I would rather feel than be an asshole, is all I’m saying.

    (Although, again, that could easily change depending on music selection or just general doldrums of the day ;)

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