Empathy, and other antiquities

I sometimes feel as though I’m running for cover from the nuclear fallout of so many selfish people. Where is it safe? Where can a girl find some compassion, charity, candor, courage, conscientiousness? Has the letter been stricken from the alphabet?

No two humans have experienced life in the exact same way. There is no taxonomy of identifiers that could ever be sophisticated enough to replace the need for empathy. Conscientiousness is more than mere political correctness, and charity more than a tax deduction. Right?

WRONG. Life in 2017 is a series of transactions through a labyrinth of echo chambers.  Don’t be naïve, get on board!

Ride the Wave
The garden variety of Selfishness is the innocuous and ubiquitous Self-Centeredness. You know the drill.

For an evening out with old friends:
Step 1. Check in to social media while you wait for your drink.
Step 2. Take pictures of the fun and interesting people and things.
Step 3. Upload said pictures while waiting for your next drink.
Step 4. Take selfies of you and your old friends being fun and interesting.
Step 5. Go home and watch TV because you’re actually exhausted from work and have done what you came to do. That is, you’ve proved that your life is fun and interesting.

This scenario is of course extremely cliché at this point in 2017. Far more cool to digitally manifest yourself as a fun and interesting person unknowingly followed by a professional photographer everywhere you go.  Last weekend, I was sitting in the quiet back corner of a bookstore, when two adult-lescent girls began staging the act of reading. That’s right. They took turns photographing themselves reading a book.

Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.
Oh my god, you are so ridiculously cute. It’s so unfair. Now tilt your head towards the light…

Never mind that someone nearby was actually trying to read a book. At least they were interacting with each other!

Meaninglessness is the useful wingman of Self-Centeredness. Consider the unfortunate scenario of being stuck in conversation with a friend who is suffering. Most humans have a vague sense that it is wrong to scroll through Tinder profiles whilst a friend describes the humiliation of losing his job.

But it’s so boring and awkward to listen to him talk about his feelings…. OMG WTF!

In such cases, creating a sense of meaninglessness is more socially acceptable than overtly looking away.

Everything is going to be okay!

This followed by a light grab at the shoulder, or both shoulders, but quickly, will transform a tender moment of vulnerability into a far more enjoyable moment of meaningless banter. But if you’re too lazy to bother with lighthearted quips and shrugs, no worries! Social convention is just a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. I once had someone pick up an iPad to read the news while I sat crying about my dead brother. It was very effective.

The most exciting form of Selfishness is Cowardice. Because its effects are essentially limitless. You really can’t appreciate the true fallout of living a cowardly life until you’ve brushed shoulders with and carefully shirked away from all the worst moments in other people’s lives.

No one likes a moral quandary. If a person appears to be in distressing need of something– you really have no clue what, but you suspect it might be something inconvenient–say something like, “I’m here for you.” Then stick to risk-free behavior, like texting emoticons. Don’t be fooled! Empathy is not like cross-fit – it often hurts, but it doesn’t ever make your butt look firmer. It’s much better to just keep your dinner plans. Later if it seems like you are in danger of being called a douchebag (ouch!), try to use reverse psychology to come up with an excuse that makes you look sensitive and considerate. The suffering person will believe this if she really wants to. Because she is surrounded by many other selfish people, some more despicable than you, and she’s picking her battles.

If you are a coward but suffer from a lack of imagination or manipulative skill, you might try immediately disappearing and pretending you were never really that close of friends to begin with. This is an incredibly effective way to preserve your personal comfort zone and also negate the existence of your selfishness.

The best way to avoid the demoralizing effects of selfish people is to drink. I find drinking really works best. However, when drinking is inappropriate, like in some bookstores, the best way to cope is to simply deny the existence of selfishness. This is a popular way to avoid all kinds of unpleasantness nowadays, such as climate change and racism. If you don’t expect empathy, you cannot be disappointed by its absence, and eventually you will forget it ever existed in the first place. There are plenty of self-love memes out there to bolster you if you start to crumble on your journey to Preservation Island. Again, no worries! You don’t actually have to love yourself for this method to work. You only have to stop expecting anyone else to love you.

There are side effects to this approach, however. For instance, you may become alarmed when a friend calls you on the phone for no apparent reason.  Several years ago, I tried to stop texting, and only call people. This worked for a time because the caller assumed an emergency. What’s the matter?! Is everything okay? Are you sure? But once they wised up to my archaic attempt at human contact, the typical response was to send the call to voicemail, then never listen to the voicemail, but immediately text back: What’s up?

Another common side effect of burying the empathy bar at subterranean levels is that you may unexpectedly witness a random act of kindness and mistake it for a crazy person. I once tried to help a mother struggling to get a stroller up an escalator. The child in said stroller tried to punch me.

This probably isn’t a problem for you, but beware that accepting selfishness as the norm rather than an aberration means that senseless acts of beauty are pretty much never going to happen again. Because there will always be someone to colonize the act, or the product of the act, by digitizing, cropping, filtering, geo-tagging and uploading it. It will no longer be senseless but rather an opportunity for Experience Colonizers to look fun and interesting. Someday these people will have to explain to their children what the antiquated phrase “you had to be there” means.

Speaking of Old English, I wish I could say that Love is the Answer. But it’s really not. There is far too much confusion about what it is. In politics, a slogan; in romance, a contract; in family affairs, an obligation to tolerate insanity.

No, my friends. Empathy is the word and the world. The only transaction I’m interested in is this:

If I live with empathy, then I can live with myself
Because the world will be less likely to fall apart than if I had not.