The opposite of empathy

Solipsistic. It means self absorbed. I heard this word several times over the past week. It’s not hoe it sounds. People didn’t call me “solipsistic” (thank goodness). All of the mentions were from the same book. Being the ever-learning person that I am, I looked up the definition.

And now I get the humor the author was trying to communicate. The person in her story had to look up the word solipsistic when she herself should be pictured next to the word in Webster’s. 

Wait. That’s not me. I AM writing a blog about myself… Does that make me solipsistic? Perhaps a little.

As hippie as it sounds, I’ve reflected on this word for the past week. Where did it come from? What is the origin? How is it used today?

Solipsism originated as a theory that a person doesn’t acknowledge anything exists outside of his/her own experiences. 

Gee. Sounds like a lot of people. Sounds like me sometimes. It’s very hard to be able to understand situations that you yourself have not experienced. We make life choices based on our own experiences. Our experiences define us. 
But that doesn’t mean we are exempt from acknowledging or at least trying to understand others’ situations. 

It’s empathy. Some consider empathy as “being ok with everything” and having loose morals because you “accept” others decisions or lifestyles. I think there’s a difference. I can have very strong differing opinions but still acknowledge and understand that someone reached her position in life through a series of decisions based on experiences. And I can understand that I may not understand, but that doesn’t devalue her existence.

I think today, it’s easy to hate what we don’t understand. Solipsism is rampant and it’s disguised as high morals and strong convictions, but really, all it is, is ignorance.

Empathy is hard. That’s probably why so many people don’t bother even trying. But I will. I’ll continue to try to be empathetic, because I definitely don’t want to be solipsistic.

Are you a good storyteller?

I learned about storytelling at a very young age. Or rather, I learned that I was a BAD storyteller at a very young age.

 My sister and I were total goofballs and ornery AF. We were always involved in some sort of shenanigan. We would trick my other sisters into doing something hilariously embarrassing and then tell the story. We knew our stories were hilarious… we just didn’t exactly deliver them that way.

Growing up, one of my most prominent memories from our family gatherings includes this level of storytelling. My sister and I would run up to one of our uncles, snickering about our latest prank. We laughed through every word. Then, something strange would happen. My uncle would just turn and walk away. Mid. Sentence. Dawn and I would look at each other for a second, baffled. Then we’d continue telling the story until one or both of us realized how silly we looked, telling each other a story about an event that included the both of us. 

We were insulted. We were confused. We just laughed it off. 

Thinking back about this phenomenon, I realize that it probably wasn’t that our uncles were rude or didn’t want to hear our story. It’s like when you’re about to hit your punchline and someone asks you to pass the ketchup. But it was probably because we did such a poor job with delivery. 

Kids aren’t really known to be great at telling stories. We drone on and on and on, with no real point. Most times I’m stuck in a conversation with a 13 year old, all I want to do is be OUT of that conversation. I get it.

Unlike most kids, I internatlized this inaudible feedback. Why would they walk away? They don’t like me? No. That’s not it. This story is annoying? No, this story is the bomb. Did I take to long to get to the punchline? Bingo! They never even got to hear the punchline. 

I started focusing on getting the story out faster, to beat them to the walk away. Talking really fast didn’t work, because then no one really understood me. So, I started using way less words to get to the point. I’d like to think this practice helped me become a better writer and speaker. Instead of giving the entire meadow report, I list off the most important, most interesting events. I got better and better at it. And, suffered through way fewer walk-aways.

Today, when I was “listening” to a 13 year old telling me about the trick shots he posts on Instagram: speed, length, distance, frequency, I walked away. As I left him staring at me in total confusion, I’d like to think that one day he’ll be a better writer for it.

Abuse punctuation for the right reasons

“It is my destiny to know people who abuse punctuation.”

I nearly spit out my coffee when I heard this line from “Hidden Bodies.” Caroline Kepnes sure has a way of developing a psychopathic murderer whose sense of humor aligns nearly perfectly with mine.

Joe Goldberg (said murderer from Hidden Bodies and YOU) was talking about his coworker and later landlord, who were so overly enthusiastic you could see the exclamation points flying out their mouths.

omg-exclamation-pointsNaturally, he’s extremely annoyed. I, too, am annoyed. Joe and I, we have a lot in common, less the whole vengeful stalker, killer bit. Joe and I also agree that it’s pretty difficult to hate someone who is that enthusiastic about nothing, about life.

I’m not the cheerleader type (shocking reveal, I know), and cheerleaders annoy me (equally shocking). But… sometimes you need that extra positivity on an otherwise mostly negative day.

I used to have a neighbor, I nicknamed him “Gipper” because he was always eagerly waving and shouting his obscenely friendly “Hi-diddly-hos!” It was almost surreal. I suspected he was some sort of serial killer (we still don’t know for certain). However, when he bounced around his yard with his 4-year-old daughter, I couldn’t help but smile at his ridiculous, annoyingly good parenting.

Over the years, I learned a thing or two from Gipper. Friendliness goes a long way and positivity doesn’t have to be forced… and it’s possible to use exclamation points for emotions other than anger.

Today, I welcome those who abuse punctuation. Five exclamation points in an email used to annoy me (no one is that excited about cookies). But now, it’s a little infectious.

Have a good week!!!!!

 

 

The Villian becomes the Hero

I’ve recently branched out to reading more fiction. In particular, thrillers. Which, if you know me, you may not believe the previous sentence. I’m a weeny. I’ve been a weeny since I was 2 years old hiding under the bed of my neighbor’s dad because I was scared of him, for no apparent reason other than he was an adult male. 

Fast forward many years, and I’m finally getting the point where I can handle a bit of a thriller, under my conditions. No science fiction and no paranormal. That unknown shit really messes with me.

My first book: YOU by Caroline Kepnes. 

I’m Audible customer, so 99% of all the books I complete are audiobooks. Yes, I can read, but I can’t sit still long enough to make it through a whole chapter. Sad, but true. 

As I listened to YOU, I found myself identifying with the narrator/main character. He was real, he was honest, he was a cynic. I was annoyed when he was annoyed with certain other characters for being pretentious about books and beers and club soda. I was on his team.

When it occurred to me that this person is a sociopath and I probably shouldn’t be rooting for him, I wondered if there was something to that. 

I’m watching MadMen now too. Same sort of deal. Don Draper isn’t a villain but he’s not exactly the hero type. I find myself rooting for him. It doesn’t hurt that he’s charismatic and good looking. But when his secretary thinks that her one night stand with him was something more than that I think, “She knows him. She knew what she was getting into.”

This seems to be a relatively new story trend. We’re all familiar with hero’s journey: Hero is normal, hero finds flaw/problem, hero struggles with flaw, hero finds sidekick or mentor to help him deal with flaw, hero overcomes flaw. Hero becomes stronger than before. Maybe we’re bored with the hero’s journey, it’s predictable. It’s common. Even my 8 year old notices: “Mommy, the good guy always wins.”

This is the villain’s journey. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel after watching/reading a villain’s journey. Mostly, I feel confused, maybe worried, mad. Definitely not the feelings I get after a hero’s journey, renewed, relieved, resolved.

In a villain’s journey, the villain starts out with all the power and he declines through the story and oftentimes, ends up a pile of mush at the end. We are showed the villain’s back story so we can emphasize, maybe identify, with him, why he’s such a lunatic. (Read: Don Draper’s awful childhood and Maleficent’s stollen wings). Sometimes we think, “he’s doing awful things but for good reasons” (Read: Ray Donovan).

While it sometimes feels wrong, it’s fun to watch the villain story unfold. We want to know what horrible thing made them who they are. It’s less predictable. We’ve seen the hero’s story and we know it by heart. The Villain’s Story is mysterious and new to us. 

That’s all it is. This entire post basically justifies my identification with the sociopath in YOU, with the narcissist in Don Draper, the vigilante in Ray Donovan, and with the vengeful Maleficent.

We’re not evil for empathizing with a seemingly human response to evil. We’re all human. (Except Maleficent is a fairy… but you get the idea.)

Is “busy” the only good excuse?

I didn’t work on this speech this weekend. 

That’s ok! You have 3 kids, you must’ve been really busy.

I didn’t go grocery shopping this weekend.

That’s ok! You were busy.

I forgot about that deadline.

You just have so many things going on.

I haven’t blogged in a week or so and I have no excuse. Have I been busy? Not really. Do my 3 kids require attention from me 24/7? Not really. In fact, I had several free hours over the weekend that I filled with light reading, heavy reading, working out and roaming around Target.
I wouldn’t say I’m too busy to do anything. I just dont’ want to.

I don’t want work on that speech, I’d rather indulge in a movie on Koty, or play board games with my kids, or do a mix of light and heavy reading. I slacked off and “busy” is not my excuse.

Lazy? Yes.

Different priorities? Yes.

I spend the weekend taking in everything I possibly could, from the beautiful weather to eye rolls from my daughter’s beautiful big browns; from a tutorial on comedy writing to George Orwell’s 1984; from Mighty Ducks to Sister Act; from the home section to the freezer section, I took it all!

It was relaxing… and I was consumed with guilt. 

I didn’t get milk (or EGGS!). I didn’t practice my speech. I didn’t write on my blog. I didn’t finish anything I started.

So today when I replied, “No, I didn’t really get anything done this weekend,” and my coworker offers up a classic “you were probably so busy” excuse, I took it. Shamefully. 

“Yes. That was it. I was just so busy.”

Busy enjoying my life.

I’m right! (and other things I’m wrong about)

Lighting strikes the same place twice: wrong!

A penny dropped from the Empire State Building can kill you: wrong!

The blood in our veins is blue: wrong! (For most of us anyway)Blue blood

The earth is flat: wrong!

Riley (4) won’t make a huge mess in my new car with just one tiny cracker: wrong!

There are so many things we’ve been wrong about. If we all know this, then why do we try sooo hard to be right all the time? I’m no exception. I’m shamefully on a never-ending quest to know everything about everything. But, thankfully, that’s impossible. We can’t know everything and we shouldn’t. In fact, much of what we do know (FOR A FACT!), could be prove false in 5, 10, 50, 100 years from now. 

So instead of always trying to prove myself right and make sure my rightness is known, maybe I should ask mysel how wrong I am, most of the time. It’s all over the place, the wrongness. Seeing only right, correct, done, stifles growth and, let’s be honest, makes me look like an ass.

Who cares if I’m right about how to pronounce a word, or the best substitute for oregano in a recipe, or what to do at a 4-way stop? Ok that last one’s important because I’m certain no one actually knows and “safety first,” am I right? 
The point is: I need to question the things I’ve filed away as “solved” and continue questioning what I think I know, what I value, what I learn. I think this is how I’ll  grow. 

Or… maybe I’m wrong about that. 

Tell me I’m not alone.

Anxiety is a mother.

Anyone who tells me they have no anxiety is lying.

One thing that makes me feel better when I have anxiety is to know that I’m not alone. I think that’s how support groups and forums originated (?). As much as I dislike the term “normal,” when I’m in my anxiety spiral, I just want to know that what I’m experiencing is normal. I’m not alone.

So many people suffer in silence, alone. Afraid they are overreacting (hypochondria), overprotective, or experiencing anxiety for some unwarranted, unrealistic reason.
When I’m really worried, I’m amazed at the power of two simple words: Me too.

I thought about this today when a friend told me her insecurities and struggles. I knew that the physical anxiety symptoms  were a typical response to what she’d been through recently. (Sorry for the generalities due to privacy). In our conversation, I realized she was looking for some sameness. Some empathy. Some people don’t have a Kendra to say “Me too” or a Donnie to say “You’re normal.”

So I did her the favor. I said “Hey. Me too. I’ve had that exact same symptom when I’ve been extremely stressed.” I told her a personal story of a time when I’d been extremely overcome with worry. My legs went numb. My fingertips tingled. I had heart palpitations. Just. Like. Hers. She was shocked. She’d googled every possible disease associated with her symptoms and she never believed it was simply anxiety.

I could almost see the weight lift off her shoulders when she said, “Really?”

I told her about my vulnerable moments that caused the anxiety with the same symptoms. And she unfolded. I like to think she left my house a little bit less stressed, knowing that she didn’t have an incurable disease,  that she likely wasn’t dying, and that she was not alone.