NaBloWriMo: Empathy [ties]

I am sitting with my computer, doing some work, relaxing on a saturday, and contemplating the meaning of empathy.  I think there's this huge component to my life that involves wanting and feeling like I need to help other people.  Sometimes, this means just going a little further for complete strangers, helping them on the subway, giving up my seat if they look uncomfortable, or offering to pay the extra 50 cents in a grocery store line when it is clear that someone doesn't have the correct change.

Other times, it's more selfishly motivated.  When you care for someone, I think the concept of altruism ceases to apply.  You do things for that person for many, many reasons, but many of those reasons are not selfless.  For instance, I spent yesterday evening taking care of my very good, quite sick friend.  I did it because it made me feel good, but also because she was upset about it and she doesn't deserve to suffer needlessly.  But that's just it--I made the decision that suffering more than X amount is unnecessary, and because it makes me feel bad to see someone suffer more than that, I stepped in, let my pre-med skillz out of the bag, and she is now on the mend, napping and recovering while I learn how to make KMLs show up on a google map API.  Oy.

And that makes me reflect on what it means to love, or to care, or to be there for someone.  Does it make a difference if you are there for yourself as well as for the other person?  I'm not sure it does.  Show me an instance where a person comes through for another person, really sticks their neck out in order to help someone out, and I'll point out how that person is also getting something important out of it.  It's just the nature of the universe that all agents in a situation are able to glean SOMETHING (good, bad, important, subtle) from every interaction they have.

Which I guess makes it all OK in the end--if we're constantly holding ourselves up against this unattainable goal of altruism and betterment for the sake of betterment without any personal gratification, then we may never find emotional fulfillment.  I think it's much better to accept the reality of the situation than try to change it.  In this case, this means indulging my desire to help others until I no longer want to.  It means letting people count on me to the extent of my abilities and desire, but no further.  Really, it's about knowing who you are as a person and letting that come out, instead of some reflection of who you are based on what you THINK other people want to see.



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A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.