A good person’s empathy

It’s kinda been a long, grueling week in the news.

I know that many people, myself included, are struggling with empathy right now. I want to be a good person. A good person fights against evil and wrongdoing. In matters over which I have no control or impact, I try to stay informed. When the siren call goes up of some late-breaking atrocity, I do not want to realize in dawning horror that this thing has been going on all along and I just didn’t care enough to notice.

I hate that feeling.

Some piece of anguish hits the news sources I see, some death or crime, and I read more. And I find that some small group of people — usually people of color, poor, suffering some sort of cultural disadvantage, possibly in a war zone, possibly mentally ill, sometimes queer, frequently woman and children — has been suffering this horrible thing for a while. And I didn’t know. And the accusation hits me: we’ve been in crisis for a while now, you just didn’t give a shit about us to notice.

Deaths of native people in Canada. Continuing violence against Rom in Europe. Still-poisoned water in Flint. Sexual violence against women who have worked with/near Trump. Deaths of trans women of color. War of police departments on poor people with traffic citations. Violence against migrants in Europe. Pollution in China. Underfunded animal shelter kill rates. U.S. airstrikes in Syria.

Those, those are the second- and third-tier things I try to stay informed about, try to be empathetic about. That’s not even mentioning the first-tier things. Nice. Black Lives Matter. Turkey’s coup. Abuse and harassment on Twitter and other online platforms. Police violence in the U.S.. Gun control reform. The upcoming elections.

I cannot care about all of these things. I don’t have it in me. I just … I run out of caring.

Now, running out of caring as I have gotten older has done me a world of good in some arenas. I simply cannot be arsed to care about what my hair looks like. Just, I don’t care what you think, I barely care what I think. Done worrying about this bit of silliness.

But I feel it’s important to keep caring about the world. About humanity. About the environment. About living creatures. About the future.

I just … I can’t care about it ALL, is the thing.

So I find myself doing empathy triage. Which things am I going to decide to not care about. And, by extension, which human beings I will decide are not worth my time.

That’s a fucking awful feeling.

I read a news story, I see the suffering and death and pain, and I think, “okay, well, I am going to not care about you.”

It’s the internet, really, that has brought me to this point. And, specifically, my efforts to broaden my understanding of the world. In the past three years I have deliberately made an effort to learn more about people and communities not-like-me. To read outside my comfort zone. To educate myself, to listen, to understand. And, well, I have been successful. So now I find myself reading about the U.S. military murdering families in airstrikes and I just think, “I cannot care about you right now.”

And I ponder. How am I making these decisions? Am I privileging people similar to myself? Am I refusing to care about people farther away? Or, do I decide to care about things that result in death, but not, say, torture or rape? How about animals, is caring about animals okay when there are still people suffering? Or is caring about animals more important because they cannot speak for themselves? Is caring about SFF and comics kerfluffles wildly self-indulgent or is it important?

What should I work on? Where should I spend my time and money? Where do I place my empathy points when I only have so many to give?

I don’t know.

I know that ignorance makes me feel like a worthless shitheel, and knowledge makes me feel like a callous bastard.

I think the answer has got to be teamwork.

I’ll care about these things, here. You care about those things, there. We each care about some huge issues and some smaller ones. We each give a little money to MDF, a little blood to the Red Cross, we each donate some books to a local library, we each foster an unwanted animal, we each buy some chickens for a needy family across the world, we each help out a GoFundMe when we can. You, you can follow the RNCinCLE, I’ll follow Philando Castile’s investigation, and you over there, you can follow the Canadian indigenous situation.

That’s got to be the solution, you know?

There’s no heroes. Instead, we are all on the Global Frequency. We each live our lives in our own small ways and every once in a while we get to help someone else out. We care where and when we are able.

And the world slowly turns onwards, into the light.



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