JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Empathy is not a competition

I'm gonna buy a "Magic Happens" bumper sticker tomorrow.

I'm gonna buy a "Magic Happens" bumper sticker tomorrow.

The Craigslist advertisement was allegedly written by a 24-year-old US man who described himself as "40 pounds overweight, not very visually appealing, not very confident or good in conversation, working full time at Staples to pay my share of the two room studio I share with this couple - not very impressive in general".

The man said he'd been adopted at birth and had recently tracked down his biological parents, his first ever meeting with them scheduled for that very weekend.

And therein the reason for the ad.

The Craigslist writer wanted to hire a male model, someone who is "handsome, well-spoken and can convey a charming, confident successful demeanor" to impersonate him for the reunion with his birth parents.

He would brief the male model on some made-up details of his life, then send him off to the meeting to charm his parents and show them how "successful" he was.

Why?

So his mum and dad would feel regret at "handing me over to strangers 24 years ago".

He concluded: "You won't have to keep this act going. I'm not going to try to establish an ongoing relationship with them. I Just want them to hate themselves a little.

"I want them to think that they might have had something to be proud of had they kept me, maybe even a better life, and then in a few weeks when they ask to see me again, I'll tell them they just didn't impress me that much and I think we should go our separate ways."

If it was a legitimate advertisement, it's very sad, and I dare say the author hates himself just a little but, then, he's not Robinson Crusoe there.

I can only take what the guy has written at face value - always a trap for new players on the internet - and speculate that the reason his ad was passed around Twitter was that many of us feel like we've not met the expectations of parents.

Some, like this man, may even wish we could make our mum or dad feel as crap as they've made us feel over the years.

What surprised me about the conversation around this ad was that some people felt comfortable mocking it - one tweeter said it reached "new levels of hilarity and horror. Almost a pitch for a Todd Solondz film, really".

Which I'm guessing means the writer cannot comprehend having had a shit childhood, bad parents or being damaged by their upbringing.

As I see it, the grand game, the big challenge for all of us as humans, is to try to understand each other.

It's the major obstacle confronting every minority; attempting to make others understand why it sometimes sucks to be who they are because the rest of us just don't get it.

Whites in this country don't understand what it's like to be judged for the colour of their skin; the able-bodied don't understand what it's like to be stared at or suffer condescension like people with disfigurements or disabilities; straights don't understand how soul-destroying it is to be told you don't have the same rights as the person living next door to you, just because you're gay.

You don't even have to be a minority - hell, women outnumber men, but they're still trying to make us understand - I mean really understand - what it feels like to be objectified and threatened just because of your gender.

In my view, all hells are equal and it's pointless trying to compare one person's suffering with another's; we are all deserving of empathy.

And mocking another's suffering, I just don't get it, unless you're daring the universe to dish out a little more sadness to you.

You might have heard the term "smug marrieds", meant to describe married couples who like to remind singles how much they're missing out on, not having a better half.

What a lot of us don't realise is there is also "smug normals" - people who had the benefit of a stable, loving home as children and cannot comprehend the hole left when you did not.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

57 comments so far

  • Good article Sam, but I'd go further and say that not only do all people deserve empathy, but all people need to be held accountable for their actions. No question people have horrible childhoods, and that gives them some breathing space when they leave that environment where people should give them a bit more rope. But eventually we need to stop apologising for that and hold the person accountable for their actions as an adult. Nothing annoys me more than a 30+ year old giving the excuse of having a hard childhood.

    Personally, to an outside observer if given the facts my childhood would sound horrible. I bloody well loved it, had a fantastic childhood to my mind (only had one, can't compare) and wish I could do it again and again. Doesn't mean it was perfect, and there were some really shit moments, but on the whole I'm really grateful for how good it was.

    Commenter
    Regularchap
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    April 18, 2012, 7:49PM
    • I had a similar childhood and haven't let life beat the optimism beaten of me either (never will) . I wouldn't trade my "shitty" upbringing for the world, it's given me a depth of character, which I see as a gift.

      Conversely, I have brothers who had an identical childhood and as adults they are agitated, not so well adjusted and live without trust. Equally I understand how their psyche evolved and I don't judge them for how they feel, if anything I feel very guilty that I got through it all with flying colours and often cast my mind back to them, when enjoying life's highs.

      So the precursor to feeling empathy is understanding and understanding can only truly come through experiential learning. So if you have had a seamless, cotton candy journey to date, hats off to you, it must be nice (but not for me) - but don't judge those who haven't. And for those of us who have successfully navigated our way through some tricky situations, its even more shameful for you to low brow anyone that is struggling to come to grips with it all. You should understand.

      Commenter
      Missionary Man
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 8:40AM
    • I had a similar childhood and haven't let life beat the optimism beaten of me either (never will) . I wouldn't trade my "shitty" upbringing for the world, it's given me a depth of character, which I see as a gift.

      Conversely, I have brothers who had an identical childhood and as adults they are agitated, not so well adjusted and live without trust. Equally I understand how their psyche evolved and I don't judge them for how they feel, if anything I feel very guilty that I got through it all with flying colours and often cast my mind back to them, when enjoying life's highs.

      So the precursor to feeling empathy is understanding and understanding can only truly come through experiential learning. So if you have had a seamless, cotton candy journey to date, hats off to you, it must be nice (but not for me) - but don't judge those who haven't. And for those of us who have successfully navigated our way through some tricky situations, its even more shameful for you to low brow anyone that is struggling to come to grips with it all. You should understand.

      Commenter
      Missionary Man
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 8:40AM
    • @ Regularchap: I had a similar childhood and haven't let life beat the optimism beaten of me either (never will) . I wouldn't trade my "shitty" upbringing for the world, it's given me a depth of character, which I see as a gift.

      Conversely, I have brothers who had an identical childhood and as adults they are agitated, not so well adjusted and live without trust. Equally I understand how their psyche evolved and I don't judge them for how they feel, if anything I feel very guilty that I got through it all with flying colours and often cast my mind back to them when I'm enjoying lifes' highs.

      So the precursor to feeling empathy is understanding and understanding can only truly come through experiential learning. So if you've had a seamless, cotton candy and breezy journey to date, hats off to you, it must be nice (but not for me) - but are you really qualified to have an opinion on those, not so fortunate?

      And for those of us (including you Regularchap), who have successfully navigated our way through a sometimes hellish existence, is it not more shameful for us to low brow anyone that is struggling to come to grips with it all?. We should understand, hey ???

      Commenter
      Missionary Man
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 9:12AM
    • I'm happy to show empathy for them, but my point is that at some point you stop giving that person a free pass for doing stupid stuff because 'they had a hard childhood'. You don't get a free pass from society to be a douche your whole life just because you had it hard as a child.

      Commenter
      Regularchap
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 9:20AM
    • Must be nice to sit in judgement so easily. I had a great childhood, surfing, playing footy & cricket & went on to some measure of success in several careers in finance, music and being a decent father.

      It does not change the fact that sometimes I lock all the doors and drink myself into oblivion after being raped by a priest at 11 and having no one I (wrongly) felt I could tell.I wake up (when I can sleep) in sweats about the rape & no amount of counselling and talk can change the fact of it all.

      One size does not fit all but don't worry, I will act normal and happy when I am around people like you.

      I would hate to make you feel bad for a minute or two.

      Wow. - Sam

      Commenter
      BadSax
      Location
      Erko
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 11:06AM
    • Over-react much? Some guy said that having a bad childhood should not be an excuse for a lifetime of being a dickhead, he's passing judgement on me!!!

      That fucking sucks, child rape is one of the worst crimes there is and no punishment is harsh enough. But there's two reasons I'm not going to actually feel that bad for you as say a 35yo as compared to an 18yo. Firstly, there's probably nothing I can say/do that hasn't already been said/done, or would help you. Secondly, and apparently this is offensive to you, the 18yo has had a lot less time to deal with it and it is more immediately effected by it.

      Commenter
      Regularchap
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 12:28PM
    • Bad sax - I feel for you. Obviously a trauma like that will affect you for the rest of your life, and no amount of counselling or understanding can completely erase it. I speak from experience

      To be fair though, I don't think that fits with 'a bad childhood' that RC was referring to.

      Although I do know people who refer to rape as 'exagerrated trauma', the sign of a truly abhorrent individual.

      Commenter
      over
      Location
      the other side
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 12:51PM
    • Absolutely no one has the right to pass judgement on anyone. If you had a great childhood thats fantastic, if you had a reasonably good childhood thats also great. If you had a childhood that you would gladly forget or have bits that you vould glady forget, that has made you the person that you are. Whether you are 20, 30, or 50 don't think that because you are older and wiser the pain is forgotten, it just gets easier to deal with. In fact, those of you who feel the need to tell others to "get over it" just because your "over 30", don't even bother to comment you will never understand.

      Commenter
      Sez80
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 2:48PM
    • 47 actually & I have loving family and friends.

      Pain is not disposable and it nails me everyday.

      I sincerely hope you are not talking from experience, I would not wish it on anyone.

      I have tried to neck myself (pschologist quote - god bless catalytic converters, I get so much more business since they came in - yes I did laugh) a few times, it is harder than you think when you are not sure.

      I am not getting into an argument. Life is tough sometimes and it is not a competition to see who can hurt the most.

      I think the "Are you OK?" campaign was brilliant.

      Too many I's in my post. Make sure the people arounf you are OK, ask them, if they trust you they will tell you & it may be ugly but you may save a life.

      Commenter
      BadSax
      Location
      Erko
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 3:18PM

More comments

Make a comment

You are logged in as [Logout]

All information entered below may be published.

Error: Please enter your screen name.

Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

Error: Please enter your comment.

Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

Post to

You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

Thank you

Your comment has been submitted for approval.

Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

Featured advertisers
Executive Style newsletter signup

Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

Sign up now