Tag Archives: empathy

We have met the enemy and it is squalor

I am ok. You?

When you spend a lot of time at home (especially in multi-person households) it is easy to let everything go to hell. You have to figure things get grubbier than usual. The only other experience that compares for me is getting cooped up during a major snow storm but it’s a lukewarm comparison. I am keeping up. The stuff I’m avoiding: Stacked dishes in the sink, a funky ambience in the bathroom, piles of papers gathering, overflowing trashcans, unmade beds, loads of unwashed laundry. Living in squalor would just make it all worse.😐

I consider myself fortunate, well, in a number of ways, but in no small part because HOME is pretty much my favorite place. I absolutely love being outdoors in nature (and need to be) but I don’t want to live there. Being at home isn’t a huge change for me. Over the years, particularly during the time I’ve had this blog, I have really worked to make Home a good place to be.

It happened that my everyday food stockpiling coincided with the quarantining/pandemic. By happenstance I bought a lot of food in January and February. But for that I’d be a lot more anxious. Last March I blogged What does Colette eat? , a list of all the food I had on-hand. Why? I made the list for myself, in part so I could keep track of what I needed to buy at any given time but shared it because I thought it might be interesting or helpful. Last week I made a new list. It”s handwritten and not blog-ready but it is very similar.

I’m not a big fan of groups in the best of times (generally preferring the company of one other person at a time) so there again I am not struggling greatly but my connection to people, to humanity, is writ large. I feel very connected to other people; to other bloggers, to people across the U.S., to people around the world. Never have I felt in my decades, such a sense that to some degree or another, we are all experiencing the same thing. I am also thinking about all the people I’ve known and cared about. This doesn’t mean I want to “reach out” or anything like that; it’s just thinking and remembering.

I really feel for people in worse circumstances. I am impressed by all those whose jobs put them at risk. I’m sure they are frightened but still they continue their work. It was a small thing but I put a hand-written THANK YOU on the door when trash & recycling collectors came on their regular schedule. Think of how it would be if people weren’t still filling these and other roles (of many stripes) either out of sickness or fear.

The people who were nice before are still being nice and the people who were jerks are still being jerks.

I saw on on TV that people were putting up Christmas lights to cheer up their neighborhoods which I thought was charming (I guess so long as it doesn’t tax the power grid 😢). I put lights out too.

On a community Facebook group someone posted about putting teddy bears in the window for children to see (I don’t know if that’s everywhere). I don’t have a teddy bear (just two small stuffed animals whose fur might suffer from condensation 😯) so I collected a few friends to display. (My boy Gumby was previously seen here demonstrating tricks I do at the playground.)



At times I tear up watching the news. The news about the postponed Olympics made me cry outright. Not because I think that’s worse than thousands dead and sickened but maybe because it shows just how big this is combined with a long-standing emotional response to the Games – I’m not sure.  When emotions are running high it’s hard to know what will trip them, even obscure or seemingly unrelated things. Anyone who’s gone through raw grief will likely recognize that phenomena as true.

My father’s parents (long dead) were from northern Italy and came to the U.S. as young adults, only to later return to Italy with their first four children, including my father, only to again come to the U.S. but despite being half-Italian, I claim no true connection to the region, which has been so hard hit by the virus. I honestly don’t know how to think about it. There is this: you keep hearing about all these old people dying (in Italy and elsewhere) and there can be a tendency to think, well, they’re OLD. But old people have had plenty of time to touch many lives, they probably have friends, children, grandchildren, maybe great grandchildren. They leave behind people who will mourn them, who wouldn’t want a demise like this virus for them but a peaceful, family-gathered, or “quietly dying in their sleep” end. I relate from that view.

Is it weird or what to see VP Pence looking and acting more presidential than the president?!

I take comfort from certain leaders and certain people in the public eye. I have been surprised that TMZ is striking the right note for me, a mix of information, genuine emotion, humor and even a little dishing.  I enjoy Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest together. Before this I didn’t habitually watch their morning show, Live With Kelly and Ryan, and had very little interest in their interviews but liked the first ten or so minutes of the show where they banter and share news, personal and otherwise, when I happened to catch it. Now that they are respectively self-quaranteened and doing the show, I find them and the show very relatable, including the celebrity interviews. Maybe it’s because I believe the affection between them? I find the Dr Phil show very formulaic (and pandering to ratings with its content ) and usually avoid it but the man himself has been compelling since I first saw him long ago. He says things that help me, going way back. I still have notes I took after Sep 11, 2001 about the suggestions and advice he had for people on how to cope. Anyway, he’s gone to a podcast style of his daily TV show and I expect to watch. He makes sense and has a crackerjack mind.

It is always so interesting who comes into the spotlight at crisis points. That Dr Fauci is rocking it. So are some governors including mine. Regular people online make a big difference too if only to distract us with humor. I am grateful to all.

I am here on the blog to distract myself in part, and hopefully to offer a little distraction. If all goes well I expect to be blogging more. I think it’ll help me. I want the connection. I think I will write about the typical topics I do, deliberately. I don’t want to focus only on the virus and its effects. I hope that is okay.

We are requested to stay home where I am but not yet ordered to.  My work has little contact with people and I can stay 6′ away so I can work some which is good on several fronts. The numbers of infection are still rising. I just don’t want to get sick but I felt that before. All winter I was working to not get the flu.

I would say I have a low grade level of agitation.

People are cooking & baking at home, they say. I was already doing that and am just trying to keep up good habits. Even so, I crave foods I wasn’t going to be having anyway, whether because they are too expensive – a huge plate of steamed shellfish – or not a usual thing I let myself eat – bags of chips and candy.😐

There are not bombs falling on my community or soldiers in the streets.  It IS scary but not the scariest, not at all. Perspective. Isn’t that what everything, always, is about?

There wll be scholars writing about this time for years to come. There will be crackpots ranting. There will be movies. It will be taught or mentioned in school curriculums. The worldwide pandemic of 2020.

Remember a few weeks ago? The impeachment, Harry and Meghan, the Australian wildfires? I haven’t heard a peep about any of them. Gone. (Although the absurd Kanye/Kim/Taylor thing got renewed steam in the last day or so. Way to rise to the occasion!😕)

I feel badly for the kids missing proms and graduations – I remember what a big deal everything associated with school and my friends was to me when I was in their place – and love that some jurisdictions promise to do these events for them later.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to have real problems or concerns now that are in addition to the pandemic fears, people with cancer or advanced stages of diseases.  They have to fear/wonder if they will still get the treatment and medications they need and if they will contract the virus further compromising their original illnesses.

Illness and disease have been wiping out populations for a very long time. I think that we’re taken aback that it can still happen independent of how prosperous or technologically advanced a society is. Money and advances will help but they can’t prevent every bad bit of business that comes along. We grow so accustomed to our structures and routines in western countries, so assured in our worlds. Events like weather and pandemics are equal opportunity.

Short Thought 201

There are people I have sympathy for who also irritate me. I think this feeling should be called empannoyance. Let’s use it in a sentence! “I feel bad that she’s sick but she’s being so demanding. She’s empannoying me.” Or: “They’re a small, struggling business that I’d like to help but it’s so empannoying that their customer service stinks.”


I recently had an exchange with Angie, and the topic of compassion was mentioned. Specifically, being a compassionate person. This got me to ruminating for a couple days. Not that I am not ruminating most of the time in general (I am) but this felt focused.

See, here’s the thing. If you asked me, “Are you a compassionate person?” I would say, yes, yes, I am. And then I’d add a caveat. I’m not entirely clear on what that caveat is though. I’ve fumbled around in my own mind as to what it is. I think part of the problem is the definition of compassion itself. This could be, as I believe in the case of the word love, that I might be walking around with an idea of compassion which is different from yours, i.e., that many or most of us have our own working definitions that are not necessarily all the same.

Compassion blends into other traits too. And that’s problematic. Is being compassionate the same as being empathetic? Is it being a pushover? “Turning the other cheek?” Is it being quick to forgive? Is it always doing the right thing? Is it helping wherever you see a need? Is it doing things you’d rather not? Where do ethics fit in?

I am careful, online and in life, not to sell or oversell my own traits, my own good points. This isn’t about being dismissive or downplaying what others may see in me as in: “Aw, shucks, I’m not all that smart” or “Do you really think I’m pretty?” or “No, I don’t think [insert whatever is being complimented] is very good.” It is more that I have an exacting nature and a specific goal to pinpoint the truth. Not to generalize or paint broadly – about much of anything and certainly not my own traits. So I hesitate over claiming compassion wholesale.

Moreover, the reality is, I have a tough time thinking of anyone I really consider a “(very) compassionate person.” Perhaps it is because I just don’t use the word itself that much? Or maybe it is because not that many people are very compassionate? Or maybe I just personally don’t know these very compassionate people who do possibly abound? Or my working definition is too strict?

When I think about my own self, I believe I am empathetic. And while I think there is a parallel between empathy and compassion, I’m not entirely clear on what that is either. They seem awfully similar so far as traits go. Empathy seems to be about an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Maybe compassion is about staying in your OWN shoes and still recognizing someone else’s concerns? Could that be it?

Empathy is, or feels, like something I was born with. It feels like a trait I can’t turn off, even when I want to. I can feel empathy for people I don’t even like. (That would be likely the time when I might want to turn it off.) I tend to know how other people are feeling and what they need emotionally. At times in my life, I’ve even participated in scenarios as something of an emotion broker: I listened to two or more people talking or haggling over an issue, and I then was able to explain to each person what the other was feeling, what their concerns were. (I only did this when it was clear they didn’t understand each other, so I was acting like an emotional interpreter.)

Compassion, on the other hand, seems more saint-like, more generous, a choice to be decent, kind, forgiving, tolerant, loving, a stand-up human being. Even when people are screwing up. Maybe especially when people are screwing up. And I’ve got some problems with this. I think maybe I’m less compassionate than I used to be. And to be honest, I’m kind of GLAD about that. I’ve been tolerant, too tolerant sometimes, in my own estimation. And I’ve concertedly changed that, or rather, have been changing that. Does being compassionate mean you’re a sucker? That you must overlook other people’s screw-ups? Always look for the best, no matter how miniscule the best may be? Forgive and forget? If that’s what compassion is, I’m really not interested.

Too much of my life, I’ve been in positions where I said to someone in so many words, “What you are doing is not okay. It is hurting people. I don’t like it. It’s not right.” And the other person said, “Yeah, I know, you’re right, it’s a problem, mea culpa, I’ll change.” And then promptly went right back to doing the same thing(!) [Repeat.]

It’s in vogue to say that everyone is doing “the best they can.” That people do horrible things because horrible things were done to them. That you can’t do better till you learn better. Etcetera. This kind of implies that one day each and every person will or could, in time, work things out – learn – and shape up. Um, that’s not what happens. A lot of people just get worse! If they get worse, can we really say they were doing the “best they could” in the first place?? That’s illogical. Moreover, I don’t believe everybody is doing the best they can. I’ve seen a bit of anecdotal evidence that they’re not. That they could do better and just don’t. How many people make being a very decent human being a big priority in their lives anyway? Am I too cynical here? Are most people trying to be very decent human beings and I’m just missing it?

When I do a crappy thing, I feel really bad about it. And honestly, the “crappy” things I’ve done, aren’t all that terrible. I know they’re not. I probably thought they were till I grew up, looked around, and saw what OTHER PEOPLE were doing! To wit: when I was a child, I had to go to “confession” at church. I’d sit around all week, trying to drum up sins to tell! The best I could come up with was nonsense like not brushing my teeth one night. I’ll grant you, I picked up the pace on “sinning” in subsequent years, but the fact remains, the times I’ve done wrong or caused harm, stand out for their rarity and for the fact they sat on my conscience. I still look around and am shocked by what people are willing to do. They don’t even seem to notice because they do these things all the time. And — when I know them personally, they don’t seem to understand what I’m making such a “stink” about.

My point being, everybody seems to be operating on their own set of rules as to what’s okay behavior. At a point, the LAW steps in and mandates a lot of it. But look how many people run afoul of the law! A lot!! Did you know that 1 in 31 people in the U.S. is either in the prison system or being monitored by it? Should I be happy about the 30 that are flying reasonably right? Or haven’t been caught? Or are operating in just such a way that they are above the law but possibly below human decency? Making judgments – and I make them – gets in the way of being compassionate, I expect.

There’s another piece to this. As I ruminated about the topic of compassion, I realized that very significantly, I’ve become more compassionate to myself. The compassion I turned outward, I began to turn inward. Now, a person might think, as you become more compassionate toward yourself, in turn you become more compassionate toward other people. Like, when someone stops judging themselves as much, they simultaneously begin to judge others less. Or the more love you give to yourself, the more love you have to offer. (This is often represented in the give-oxygen-to-yourself-on-the-plane-before-giving-it-to-others scenario, i.e., fill your depleted tank first so you have more to offer others.) But that’s not really what I’m experiencing. Maybe in the long haul it will be but it isn’t presently. What I used to give to others, I am giving to myself.

I now consciously choose not to be as compassionate as I once was, if that is in fact, the right word. It is not that I have erased empathy and compassion in my self. It is that I have become so much more conscious and conscientious about how I use them. The price tags were simply too high before and overtaxed my compassion/empathy spigots. And I just didn’t know that at the time. Or rather, I somehow believed I had to pay. It was all self-imposed.

I’ve learned that just because I start being compassionate in a situation or in regard to a person, it doesn’t mean I have to keep it up. If I see a reason to stop or dial it back, I now give myself permission to do that. I used to think once started, all in; no exits. But guess what? The Compassion Police don’t show up and your door and demand to know why you’re slacking off! Nothing happens! Maybe I used to think some terrible toll would be exacted for not towing the compassion line. For not offering second, third, fourth, fifth chances. (Because people wanted them or thought you SHOULD offer them or I thought I SHOULD.) And more than that; I don’t have to give chances AT ALL if I don’t want to.

Maybe empathy isn’t a choice – it’s involuntary as I’ve suggested, at least for me – but compassion IS.

Don’t yawn!

It’s almost spooky when you consider it to see someone yawn and immediately feel the urge yourself. The last word has yet to be said on the subject, but did you know there have been studies, well at least one I’ve read about anyway, connecting yawning to empathy?

The theory also suggested that yawning could have been the signal in ancient societies (here I picture cave men and women sitting around the fire relaxing after a nice dinner of flambéed buffalo) that it was time to go to sleep. One person yawns and you know how it goes, the rest follow suit.

Certain people according to the study, are more susceptible than others depending on their levels of empathy. I am so vulnerable that when I read the word in a book or say it aloud to myself I induce a yawn. Are you yawning now??

They should have a study to secretly ferret out sociopaths by putting them in a  group of yawners to see if they’d follow suit. I bet they’d just sit there, twiddling their thumbs, wondering when refreshments would be served.