Saturday, February 25, 2012

Personal Empathy - Very personal post. Please feel free to skip this one!

This is not a new personal insight or anything, but watching Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham, it reminds me that I am riddled with a bizarre affliction whereby I have great depths of empathy for humanity and groups of people in general, but utterly lack it when it comes to individual human beings. My heart literally bleeds for the the poor, the disenfranchised, the ostracized, those struck by tragedy, minority groups, the enslaved, etc. This is why I vote Democrat. This is why I advocate for liberal causes. This is why I went back to graduate school - so I could learn the skills needed to implement policies designed to help these kinds of people. But there is a real disconnect between by liberal empathy and my daily life. Personally, I don't do anything to help individuals - I don't volunteer my time at soup kitchens, or old age homes, or rehab centers, or at Big Brother or any similar organization. I don't donate a substantial portion of my salary to charity. I'm emotionally cold and distant to many of my closest friends. I don't really know anyone who would rely on me in a time of need. I don't "do" affection. I don't "hug" people. There is a running joke amongst my friend and I about how we wouldn't last on Survivor because we wouldn't participate in any of the group hugs. (I should point out that exuberant high-fives are in my range of emotions). But I get more upset watching sappy movies (or non-sappy movies) than I do by more personal tragedies. I fear if I ever have a family, I'll grow into the classic caricature of the liberal father who spends all of his time "saving the world" and ignoring his own family. There has to be a name for this sort of thing right?
I bring this up because Tiny Furniture is the first movie in a long time I just couldn't make it through. I mean, the lead character falls into a subgenre of people I normally emphasize for - individuals (in this specific case female) riddled with self-doubt, self-loathing and body issues. And yet, perhaps because she does such a believable job of portraying these character defaults, I simply cannot empathize for her. She's just too pathetic. And I guess the movie is supposed to be "funny," but I'm just not getting the humor, though it's clearly aimed at pretentious indie art fans like me. Anyway, I don't have much more to say about the movie since I only made it 2/3 through. I can't imagine it gets any better and I'm sure her HBO series will suck in the same manner. Anyway, I just like to point out that amongst my myriad of personal faults, I am not unaware of many of them. In fact, I am aware of most of them! I'm just too bad (or lazy) of a person to do anything about them. Hence my need to find a job where I can make a real positive impacts on a lot of people's lives. Ultimately, it is important to me that I balance the ledger.

1 comment:

  1. Tiny Furniture was a fairly acclaimed film coming out of SXSW but as far as I can tell, I'm the only person who actually loved it.

    Anyway, I'm definitely on board with population-level but not individual-level empathy thing, though I was just writing that off to the Aspergers.