Essay, Reflections

The Ethics of Empathy…

So…  I’m feeling an urge to lecture today.  Not because I believe you need to learn something, or because I believe I’m uniquely qualified to teach it, but because, apparently, there is something going on in my subconscious that is looking for a way out.  And The Otherhood of One has certainly been successful (this time anyway) in that one regard – it has given me a forum for exploring and expressing the diverse and evolving “me.”

I learned through various venues in my life that sometimes the best way to “learn” something is by “teaching” it.  From tutoring, to peer counseling, to actively teaching courses in college and private settings, to writing textbooks on topics that interested me or not, the end result is the same:  teaching forces one to organize material into a learning format, allowing both student and teacher to better grasp it.  So… I feel a need to lecture today, because clearly there is something I’m trying to learn…

And today, I want to explore ethics…

Such a broad topic to consider, and yet I know there is something specific calling me, if I could only narrow it down.  Bear with me while I wander through this vast and imposing landscape.  Two recent touchstones keep claiming my attention, so let me begin there.

First is an article I published today on bayart.org about empathy.  Maybe you can find it here ;):

http://bayart.org/on-empathy-today/

The other results from a recent meditation experience I had, and the dichotomy of interpretation that resulted when I shared it.  The vision was simple enough: I was at the docks seeking something of value for myself when I discovered a small child hidden in a 50 gallon drum.  I rescued the child without hesitation, while acknowledging there would be a “cost” for doing so.  It literally didn’t occur to me to NOT rescue the child, regardless of personal cost, and I was perfectly at peace with that decision…

Until I mentioned that experience to a friend, who responded by saying, “See?  There’s your problem, Lisa!  Maybe you should have simply let things be, and chosen what was best for you instead.  It’s not your place, or your responsibility, to ‘save’ everyone!  You need to learn to be more selfish…”

You know, that thought never even occurred to me…  And while I can’t bring myself to actually agree with my friend, it did get me questioning things.  What if my automatic responses to situations are part of my problem?  What if I’m stuck in this rut of my own creation because I can’t even imagine another response?  What if…?  Well, you get the drift…

And what do these two events share?  They both touch on ethics, particularly the ethics of empathy.  Hence, this current attempt to further explore the topic by lecturing on it…

While I was writing my article today, it struck me what an incredibly invasive process true empathy is.  I mean, think about it!  People love privacy, and nothing is more private or personal than their emotional states.  But as an empath, I am constantly in that space, intentionally or not.  When you consider that empathic connections tend to flow in both directions it gets even more so.

All my life I’ve heard complaints (jokingly, usually, but there is always some underlying truth to jokes that make them “work”) about my invasion of such personal space.  People complain that they can never surprise me, for example, because I always sense it coming; whether I pick up on their excitement, or the anxiety that comes with “breaking my heart,” I always know in advance when something big is imminent.  Then there’s the frequent admonishment to “get out of my head!” when I respond appropriately to someone’s unspoken (as yet) request.  And while I welcome offhand compliments about how my presence can “light up” a room, I cannot conscientiously dismiss those complaints of the “dark clouds” that sometimes follow me around, dragging everyone near me down…

As for the little boy I rescued in my vision, I doubt I would ever choose not to; it’s simply not who I am. Self-sacrifice to aid another, friend or stranger, is simply part of my nature.  I don’t consider myself a martyr, nor do I do such things to feel better about myself.  My self-worth does not depend upon the numbers of others I help, nor what I must give up to do so, but rather about how “true” I am to my own nature.  So yes, I would have felt “bad” walking away from that boy, I would have felt guilty, so much so that it would have prevented me from enjoying whatever I gained by doing so.  But it would have been because I betrayed my own values and integrity, not because I betrayed the boy and whatever he represents.

So what is significant about these two scenarios is not what actually happens in them, so much as the “unquestioning” nature of them; I won’t turn off my empathic scanning, even if it’s invasive, any more than I would walk away from that child.  But now that I’ve stumbled onto the unquestioning nature of my behavior, the rebel within me naturally begins to question…

Hmm…  Interesting…

Apparently, I have nothing more to say on this topic, at least for now.  I’ve been staring at this screen for some time without any useful thoughts occurring.  I am aware that I’m hungry; my tummy is growling.  Actually, I think I forgot to eat today.  That often happens when I’m writing a lot… lol!

I am aware of time passing, and am looking ahead to what happens next.  It’s 11:07pm EST, and I have work tomorrow.  What do I need to accomplish before then?  How much sleep do I actually need?  Yeah, that kind of mental chatter…

But nothing on the topic at hand…

I feel a “calling,” a pulling away of my attention, but I cannot yet identify its source.  Message or need(?); I can’t even distinguish that much at this point.  But I feel it.  Pressing, though not yet urgent.  Even my cat is acting restless…

Sorry, all…  I hoped that a little free association, some automatic writing, might shake loose some thoughts of value.  Instead, this post is rapidly deteriorating into something more appropriately put in journal form.  While I am always fascinated to discover how people think and feel, I forget that not everyone shares that with me.  And while the workings of my own thoughts certainly intrigue me, it occurs to me that may be peculiar to me, which seems fair and appropriate, after all… lol!

And so I think I’ll say goodnight, fully aware that this post is incomplete…

Or is it?

It is at least possible that I’ve already written what I needed to read, in which case it IS finished.  I merely await your responses to help me zero in on the point…

Oh yay! for the Otherhood…  😉

 

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7 thoughts on “The Ethics of Empathy…

  1. A very personal approach (on your part) to a very broad topic, which leaves little to say except a comment as an acknowledgment that it was read (twice!) to be sure I got it. So I “got” the lecture for myself, whatever it has meant to you. It’s 11:30 PM here too, and I too must work tomorrow, even if it is Sunday.

    Empathy, which I take as a sense that awakens from the practice of compassion (in my case) is a very personal thing, like any other sense. No one sees the same, or tastes the same, nor does anyone respond to situations empathetically the same. It is the level of compassion we willingly express and the empathy we feel that defines us more than anything else as individuals, I think. Deep stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Speaking of deep stuff…

      “It is the level of compassion we willingly express and the empathy we feel that defines us more than anything else as individuals…”

      This defines “deep” and deserves a more thorough thinking on my part, as something about it truly “clicks” with me. The words are easy enough to understand, in context, but the message is bigger than that…

      Also the idea that empathy experienced is as unique as the individuals who experience it, as well as the notion that each person we empathically connect with feels unique. (You might not have said that last part; I might have extrapolated a bit… lol!)

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Sha’Tara! I rely on you to help me see straight sometimes, even though it’s not a role you volunteered for… 😉

      Like

      • I used to be a “collective” motivated person. See a social problem, get up a group, link that local group to larger national and international groups and you were on the way to solving the problem. In the vernacular – total bullshit. So I quit all the groups and political affiliations (even quit being a shop steward) and cast about for something real, something that nothing, no one, could take from me, or could use my efforts to measure their success (hence popularity and earnings) by. I narrowed it down to compassion. Then I realized that Eartians are not naturally compassionate, but the exact opposite. This awareness empowered me to live in self-empowerment. I would decide what was good for me, and on a one-to-one basis, what I could do that was good for another, or the other, always realizing that the “costs” were mine and would not be amortized among a “fellowship” or like-minded individuals who may or may not agree with my choice. No compromise! That is your vision of the rescue of the child on the docks. Without you, that child would have died, but it took commitment and self-empowerment to act. A “normal” move would have been to take the child to some agency, or call some agency to come rescue the child: police comes to mind. The self-empowered, compassionate being acts strictly alone, always (though without rejecting free help if offered, but never begging for it as organizations do). This brings me to the second part: empathy. Empathy, as I’ve been taught and as I now know to be fact, is a dormant sixth or seventh sense within all of us. It can only be awakened and activated through the deliberate practice of compassion. The reason is convoluted, but it has to do with programming by the ruling Matrix; the “gods” of organizations, particularly those who rule Religion, Government and Finance or Money (all capitalized as legitimate “Powers” that rule and ruin the worlds in which they are acknowledged, believed and worshiped. Earth is a classic case of quasi-complete idolatry to its ruling Trinitarian Matrix.

        Karen Armstrong, (https://www.ted.com/participate/ted-prize/prize-winning-wishes/charter-for-compassion) the promoter of collective compassion, i.e., compassion taught to groups, is totally barking up the wrong tree, or worse, playing with a Matrix agenda. Without (individual) or self-empowerment, no real compassion is possible and any joining of any grouping systematically destroys self-empowerment thus negating all efforts at developing a compassionate being.

        That’s why I said that compassion which leads to empathy is what defines individuals. Groupies will fake these values but will always fail in the end, for the end isn’t to be compassionate or empaths, but self-empowered individuals! We have a tendency to put the cart before the horse… and why not, it makes it look like we’re reaching our goal sooner (cart at the front imagery) whereas the truth of it is, nothing is actually moving: a horse doesn’t push, a horse pulls.

        While self-empowerment works through detachment, it doesn’t stop the individual from interacting freely with another, or others, but it does guarantee that “power” will not be sucked out of the compassionate being to serve another’s agenda.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Sha-Tara! Just wow… I read this several times last night, trying to grasp the wholeness of the message, even following your link to investigate Karen Armstrong’s collective compassion. But after several readings, I still felt I was “missing” something, so I blamed it on being tired and decided to sleep on it…

    I dreamt. Of solving and translating codes. It was a test… I woke from that dream feeling as if my awareness had profoundly shifted a degree or two, though totally unrelated to this…

    Having coffee, and I decided to re-read and respond, not wanting to leave this comment hanging in the wind… And…

    No real words to respond; just awareness. I can say that re-reading it this morning was different, as though before it was in my “second” language, and suddenly I’m seeing it in my native-born tongue, which makes so much more sense! It easily comes together, so I feel like I “get” it!

    And none of what I’ve just said actually responds to what you said directly, but it does… sort of, anyway.

    Sorry, rambling here. Having what I jokingly refer to as a “cascade” moment, during which many different “truths” from various paths of enquiry suddenly coalesce into a single definable, and recognizable, pattern, which makes “perfect” sense, but defies explanation…

    Thank you! For taking the time to explain, and for opening this door for me to “see”! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I once posted on facebook a real while back, something like “how to be selfless but still be selfish”.
    I can see that in your post, you have that juxtaposition of the sense. No matter what you do with your time u have to be selfish about it. Yet put on that selfless when you get out there, then do try to be selfless and make the time for those who needs it most. We can be a part of the greater good in anything we can do. There will be a better times, when people see the example and let things be. let people be people. The only thing is that what we can is our limit.

    Liked by 2 people

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