June Journals #17 ~ Loss and Empathy

I try not to engage with the news on this post. It becomes political – always – no matter what you say. So, for the sake of my family, I try and keep my opinions below the radar.

Whether it’s the fact I’m a Liberal Leftie with a Monarchist lean, or that I’m a Bremain with a hope for reform, or that I’m a non-Christian who lives and upholds (most) Christian values. It’s really no-one’s business but mine.

But I can’t write a trite post today. I can’t share pictures of my finished Jester or brag about running nearly 5k or talk about tennis. I just can’t.

There has been so much sadness this year. So much. The mind can’t take it in.

Famous people, icons, people that inspired me, taken too soon by illness.

Right-wing newspapers vilifying people fleeing war and oppression.

A handful of [redacted] so-called football supporters ruining it for the majority.

Gorilla’s dying. Children dying. Decent people ranting and pointing the finger.

Orlando.

I. Just. Can’t.

I have to stop reading the news. I actively avoid it most of the time, because my heart breaks open. I despair for the world my children will inherit.

Instead I gather my news from Facebook.

I watch videos of a man rescuing drowning kittens or a group of boys saving a dog. I look for the positive, humanist stories that keep my faith in humanity.

I hang out with my liberal leftie friends who are all for staying in the EU, who care about the environment and fairness and believe love is love is love. Whose hearts also break at every tragedy and who don’t immediately blame and judge.

I follow Jeremy Corbyn for heaven’s sake. You don’t get much further left.

And then he posts this:

JoCox

I didn’t know who Jo Cox was before today. As I say, I’m not overtly political and I don’t follow the news. But reading this, seeing this picture of the kind of politician I wish we had more of in this country (the world), I felt bereft.

Perhaps because she’s about my age, with two young children and a husband who will mourn her. Children who will ‘grow up without their mum’ (this made me choke). Perhaps it’s the honest goodness she radiates, or that she is everything I wish I could be. Whatever it is, I feel her loss acutely.

Most of all, I am touched that Jeremy Corbyn remembers her first as a person. The comments underneath are not so kind: immediately they are political, immediately they are blaming and hateful, disrespecting the values this woman clearly represents.

I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the hate and the trolling and the virtuous do-gooders so quick and ready to have – and share – an opinion even if it isn’t appropriate or even valid.

I’m sick of the blame, and the need to be right, and the refusal to even attempt a shred of empathy.

Empathy.

What ever happened to that? One thing my kids have learned from having a mother with depression and an inability to hide her emotions is empathy. I will cherish it, nurture it, encourage it, even if it means they’ll feel pain. At least they’ll feel.

If the world took one second to try not just to see something from another person’s perspective, but actually live and feel their thoughts and emotions, we wouldn’t be so polarised. We wouldn’t be so quick to judge. There is no ‘other’.

A post that sums it up perfectly (but is too long to share in its entirety here) was published by 4BoysMother – Melissa Fenton, Writer on Facebook today, in relation to the boy snatched by an alligator at a Disney Resort. Here’s an excerpt.

4BoysMother

This is what empathy looks like.

The Stories in Tragedy: Manchester Dogs Home

My daughter woke up in tears at 3am this morning (that’s another post) and it took a long while to calm her back to sleep. When I finally made it back to bed, I had to check the downloads for my latest Baby Blues free promotion (they’ve been amazing, but that’s another post too) and I happened on a tragic story unfolding in Manchester.

Yesterday evening a fouteen-year-old boy allegedly set fire to the Manchester Dog Home. The home houses around 200 dogs and at least a quarter were killed in the blaze.

I reluctantly confess, despite being a dog lover, my initial response was that it wasn’t a tragedy on the scale of Syria or Gaza or the 9/11 anniversary.

It disgusts me, now, in the cold light of dawn, how numb I have become to tragedy.

Then I started reading the news feed – in reverse – and became involved in the emotion of it. The story behind the headline.

It’s what Humans of New York has done for every strife-ridden country it has visited as part of the UN Tour: tell the stories and you humanise the victims. You create room for empathy and the headline is no longer a number, a statistic. The dispassionate historian in me gives way to the writer. That is the power of stories.

As I read about the awful truth of trapped animals yelping in fear, I cried. When I read about the people of Manchester and beyond turning out in their thousands with crates and blankets and offers of help I felt lifted by the knowledge that there is still some good left in humanity. The online fundraising account started by the Manchester Evening News has raised a staggering sum overnight (donate here) and my faith in the world is somewhat restored.

But then I read some of the comments about the 14-year-old suspect. Comments like ‘he should hang’, and ‘he should burn’ and I think, what about his story? Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a despicable act and he should be punished. But, fourteen? What happens in a child’s life that leads him there?

And that’s the parent in me talking. That’s listening to my daughter sob at 3am, “Mummy, I just don’t know why I’m so sad,” and fearing she’s inherited my depression, god help her. That’s seeing every tiny thing that shapes my children and feeling guilty for most of it, while trying to remember they are people in their own right and it isn’t all my fault.

I’m shocked and dismayed by the boy’s behaviour, and six years ago I would have let him burn. But meeting hate with hate isn’t the answer, although I don’t know what is. My first response is to want to give him a hug, as I would my boy, when he does something stupid that incurs my wrath and says, “I don’t know why I did that, Mummy, I’m sorry.”

All I know is the emotions left me feeling like I might fly apart. There isn’t room inside me for all the contradictory empathy, the love and loss and hope and disappointment and, above all, the need to understand. The world was easier when it was hero and villain, good and bad, black and white.

Essential Empathy

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sherlock Series 1 Finale

Sat with hubbie watching Sherlock this evening, for only the second time (the finale to series 1 it seems and yes, I know; we’re always behind the times!), and I’m not enjoying it as much as the first episode I watched (which I think was series 3).

In this episode, Sherlock is tracking down someone who has set him puzzles to solve in a set time or he will blow up random strangers strapped to explosives. (Sorry, loglines have never been my forte!)

Sherlock has no empathy for the lives of the strangers, barely even registering them as people. It is difficult to watch. He explains to Watson that sympathising with the suffering of the victims wouldn’t help him solve the cases. I find his lack of emotion disturbing and, for me, it makes his character hard to relate to. The clever language and problem solving still make it compelling viewing, but empathy is essential to me. It’s interesting that, under ‘strengths’ in my character crib sheets, my female protagonists generally list empathy first.

Sherlock reminds me of Psych, another problem-solving drama, where the lead has exceptional powers of observation (which he explains away as being due to psychic powers). Psych, however, is much more lighthearted and the lead character, for all his occasional idiocy, has a big heart.

My latest read

My latest read

Maybe I am noticing it more because I have started reading The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The story is written from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. It offers a unique insight into the mind of someone who understands “very little about human beings.”

Thinking about the characters in books and films that I love the most, they are all people with huge hearts (often despite hard exteriors): Gibbs in NCIS, for example, or Daniel in SG-1. People who understand people and not just so they can manipulate them.

Maybe Sherlock has a journey to go on. Perhaps I liked the series 3 episode better because he showed some heart. Certainly the hardest thing in fiction is portraying growth in a character and still being able to make them sympathetic characters before they start on their journey. Many a chick lit book has started with a protagonist I wanted to slap.

It’s a great excuse to keep watching Sherlock: to see if he grows, to see if he finds some empathy. To learn to write better fiction. And of course because you can’t beat clever TV.