Varieties of Empathy

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

There has been a lot swirling around my head late­ly; some gen­er­al themes in­clude: fore­sight & hind­sight, the evo­lu­tion of the hu­man ca­pac­i­ty for change, ag­ing, em­pa­thy, the very dif­fer­ent im­pli­ca­tions & re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­her­ent in dat­ing as a fa­ther, and why my dog farts un­con­trol­lably when my son plays with his toy he­li­copter (pro­nounced, and this is very im­por­tant: “hel­lapoc­k­er”).

So I’ve been think­ing too much to write, much less co­her­ent­ly. So I’m go­ing to try and catch up a bit, right now.

Foresight & Hindsight

When I was re­al­ly lit­tle, I had a book about Thomas Jefferson and the val­ue of fore­sight. Although I’m not sure I ful­ly grasped the con­cept at the time, it stuck with me. It’s some­thing I con­sid­er to be a rel­a­tive strength of mine. I can look ahead long-term and see what the path I want to fol­low en­tails and act ac­cord­ing­ly. I fig­ure that the bet­ter and more prac­ticed your fore­sight, the less it will dif­fer from the 2020 of hind­sight. I al­so fig­ure that not very many peo­ple un­der­stand the val­ue of fore­sight or are ca­pa­ble of it. Or, I’m an ar­ro­gant dick.

Capacity Changes & Aging

In terms of in­ter­est, life seems to be a pro­gres­sion from the gen­er­al to the spe­cif­ic. A child is in­ter­est­ed in every­thing (ex­cept a var­ied di­et), an ado­les­cent is in­ter­est­ed most­ly in the things they like, and in try­ing things they haven’t yet been able to do. An adult tends to­ward the en­joy­ment of things they have es­tab­lished as life-long pas­sions, and los­es in­ter­est in try­ing new things. I’m speak­ing in grand gen­er­al­i­ties, here. Wrapping it all to­geth­er with the fol­low­ing…


I think em­pa­thy can en­com­pass more than just shar­ing in another’s feel­ings; in­clud­ing as­pects of fore­sight & re­flec­tion up­on the ca­pac­i­ty changes that ag­ing brings about. As ag­gra­vat­ing as it is to be an ado­les­cent who feels pa­tron­ized by “you’ll un­der­stand when you’re old­er”, what is seen as con­de­scen­sion is ac­tu­al­ly nos­tal­gia for (and there­fore em­pa­thy with) the feel­ings & ca­pac­i­ties of ado­les­cence & child­hood. Foresight is a kind of prepa­ra­tional em­pa­thy or an em­pa­thy with a fu­ture self; I look ahead and in the act of judg­ing pos­si­ble out­comes, place my­self in a cer­tain po­si­tions and re­verse en­gi­neer the best path to reach the place I want to end up.

Glad I’ve cleared that up for my­self.

Cumulative Review Part 1 — The Crap!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

From what I’ve seen, read and talked about with oth­ers, the con­sen­sus is that the first decade of the new mil­len­ni­um, the first decade of ac­tu­al world­ly-aware­ness on my part, sucked. For the most part, I’ve got to agree. Global ter­ror­ism, geno­cide in Africa, two un­winnable wars, Americans tor­tur­ing peo­ple, two re­ces­sions (or eco­nom­ic down­turns, or bub­ble-bursts, or what­ev­er safer word you want to use), and those are just the top 5.

Personally, the new decade hasn’t start­ed out much bet­ter. On New Year’s Eve, Bram was sick. On New Year’s Day I came down with the same thing and lost 7 pounds in 36 hours, prob­a­bly should have gone to the hos­pi­tal, and spent the next 3 days hob­bling about like an old man. During this time Debbie’s broth­er got what­ev­er it was. And the babysit­ter, and the babysitter’s hus­band, and an­oth­er kid she watch­es, and that kid’s par­ents.

So Tuesday I feel up to go­ing to work. I put on my dress shirt and lo, a tear in the left el­bow. What the hell? Whatever. I put on an­oth­er dress shirt and lo, a tear in the left el­bow. What the fuck? Whatever. I put on a sweater and go to work. While walk­ing to the bus stop, I get a call to find out that my uncle’s fa­ther died the night be­fore. He wasn’t blood kin, but he might as well have been. 92 years old, a great and good man, a pa­tri­arch of the 20th cen­tu­ry.

So enough of the crap from the last decade.