Empathy

I have a condition – well, actually several and though I feel a little shy about presenting them in such a public forum, my hope is that some good will come of it. My conditions or issues or problems or whatever euphemism you want to apply to make yourself feel more comfortable usually manifest after I’ve read one too many news articles or journals or spoken with one too many people who have an ailment. I set down the paper, walk into the living room and demand from Jay, “Do you think I’m autistic?” “What?!” “Autistic! You know… am I autistic?” “Why do you think that?” “Well, it says here something about being adverse to strangers touching them and I don’t like stranger touching me. Do you think I’m autistic?” … and then Jay stares at me, because he knows deep-down that I misdiagnosed and I’m actually “retarded”.

I don’t think I’m alone in this either. In our endeavor to empathize – to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – we come out wearing their entire skins – ailments and all. Combine that with the current trend where nothing is our fault (it’s our parents, our neighbors, our genes, our exposure to violence on TV) and you’ve got an excuse for being both an empathetic listener and schizophrenic all at once. Plus, it makes you a better conversationalist at parties.

Who hasn’t walked into a crowded room and heard “Well, I met the host after a raging case of athlete’s foot? I lost ELEVEN toe nails! It was awful! Mmmm hmmm!” Then your job, as the empathetic soul you are, is to come up with an equal or better story so the other person doesn’t feel so alone in their plight, “Oh, that’s terrible! I once had athlete’s elbow and it ATE MY DOG!” I was recently ostracized at a party from a conversation because I didn’t have the right pathological creds and though I tried, I couldn’t think of a single person who had anything related to the current debilitating ailment of conversation. I was relegated to sitting quietly and offering up lamely, “ummm, I’m mildly autistic? Self-diagnosed. Oh hey, appetizers!” Then I went to rock in place because that’s what they say someone in my condition is supposed to do on the bad TV dramas.

A friend once said she had a co-worker who spent a lot of time reading through the Merck Manual and eventually correctly identified a rare disease she had after several misses and getting a line in her general practitioner’s file that read something like “Approach with extreme caution. Have tazers at the ready.” I think what I was supposed to take away from that was “the girl is nuts” – instead I got, “with a little perseverance and careful reading you too don’t have to go to medical school to identify what ails you.” YAY!

So, today I make this pledge to my friends and family. To be a better friend, dinner guest and partygoer, I will do my best to identify as many psychological and physiological disorders (some of them brought on by my family tree, my neighbor’s dog and not having an iPhone to call my own) as I think apply and because I love you guys, I’ll even throw in some extras for debate.

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One thought on “Empathy

  1. Anonymous says:

    Remember to share the wealth. While reading up to diagnose yourself, feel free to let me know what ailments I have.~ April

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