Sunday, March 30, 2014

Empathy-did we lose the ability?

Empathy-dictionary defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

 There was a thread going on one of the sex industry forum for a while revolving around rape.
Some of the replies from guys were shocking, to say the least.

They ranged from “It is a choice and one can always walk away” to “You (victim) should have been more vigilant/aware and could have prevented it” to (by now expected) “Did their (victims) dress/appearance/behaviour provoke it” to “I hope you reported it and followed up on it”.

One of the girls recounted historic rape-it happened few years ago. She was in her locked and bolted apartment, in the bathroom in her PJs brushing her teeth when her neighbour broke in through the window and bathroom door and raped her.
All she probably wanted was a little empathy. Along the lines of “I am so sorry this happened to you. I hope the son of a bitch burns in hell”. 
What she got was 15 pages of bullshit from the guys along the lines of “Well, were there any signs prior to the incident that he might do something like this”

Seriously??!! Are you people for real??

Each and every one of us shares our feelings and experiences first and foremost in hopes of others validating our feelings and showing a little support. It doesn’t cost anything and takes minimal effort.
It is the first response from any normal well-adjusted human being. 

No, it won’t take away the pain and bad memories from the victim, but it will make them feel better, even if only a fraction. It will make the person offering support feel better, too. Not self-righteous, but feeling good that they offered a bit of a shoulder to share the burden to someone.

This is especially applicable to situations from the long gone past, as clearly the teller of the story has dealt with it (in whatever way) and is not looking for advice on how it should have been handled (as none of us own a time machine). 

People tell us stories to get something off their chests and all they want is a little support.
Trying to look for reasons why something happened and offer suggestions on how it should have been handled (however well-intentioned) will inevitably be perceived as lack of sympathy for the victim and an attempt to blame her/him for the outcome.

My relationship with my mother was destroyed for all intents and purposes from the very early age because of lack of empathy on her part.
Every time I scraped my knee, got a cold or a flu, first thing I got from her was some yelling and berating me for not being careful, not watching where I was going, running around too much and sweating (hence getting cold) and not washing my hands enough (hence getting the flu).
Not once (I am dead serious) has she ever started with “Honey, I am sorry. Does it hurt? Let me do something to make it better”. 
Oh, she took care of me, but always managed to make it about her and not me-she blamed me for creating worry and stress to her with my mishaps/illnesses.

Whenever a teacher complained about something I’ve done (I was a straight A student, but often the issues had nothing to do with academic achievements)-be it a fight with a classmate or my defiant stand on some issue or another, my mother automatically and immediately took teacher’s side without ever wanting to hear my side of the story. She never stuck up for me.

I understand now it was her parenting method-the way to teach me to obey the rules, respect authority, conform and learn discipline.  Not necessarily a bad thing and in my grown up years I was glad to have learned discipline early on (and was much appreciated by my employers for that), but the way she went about it was wrong and our relationship has never recovered to this day.

Empathy and kindness are very important. They are what make us human.

There is a point in every discussion when anyone should realise that empathy is all that’s required-not proving your point.
The reason I say that is the guy who was pushing the whole “Victim can prevent rape/walk away from the situation” in that thread on sex forum was getting quite upset that people (girls mostly) was having a go at him. 
He kept saying that his words were taken out of the context, that he was just making general reasonable suggestions, that people didn’t know him personally and shouldn’t make judgement about his character based on those, etc, etc.

Well, I actually met that guy in person over a year ago. 
He expressed an interest in meeting me (along with several other forum members) on the open forum and I suggested that he contact me when he happened to be in my city. He did. 
This was not a booking, nor was it one of the paid “coffee dates” I offer-he made it very clear. He actually sent me a separate message after the arrangements for a meeting were already made and wanted “to be very clear that he was not making a booking”. In fact, he didn’t even pay for my coffee.
So there is no WG/client discretion clause here (not that I am about to disclose any secret or personal information), as no commercial situation took place.

Well, based on talking with him for 2 hours I can say that he is certainly not stupid. In fact, he is quite intelligent and eloquent. He holds a job that requires fair degree of assessment skills. He certainly knows right from wrong and understands basics of human interaction.

So... He most certainly knew (or could hazard an educated guess) that when a girl tells a story of a rape from several years back, the right response would be empathy (in one form or another).

Yet he chose (he likes to use the word choice and often claims we all have it in every situation, so I will throw it back at him) to proceed with comments that can be only construed as victim blaming.
Even when one of the girls pointed out to him in that many words that all is required is compassion, he shot back that he is not obliged to provide any on a forum to anyone. 

Well, that’s true: no one has to be compassionate. But the readiness with which we offer support and kindness is a telltale sign of our character in whole. 

Discussion is great, but there are times when it is not important to prove you’re right. It is much more important to be human.

Be kind. It’s contagious.


  1. Well said friend Yana. I've been biting my tongue on the whole subject after an initial shot on my blog.

  2. There is a deeply entrenched culture of victim blaming on that forum. I am surprised that you were shocked by the responses. They were responses that I totally expected.