I’m an empathetic person.
I’m not trying to claim this as a virtuous trait and compliment myself. I’m saying that I act unconsciously as a kind of mirror, or sponge, for the feelings of people around me. It verges on ridiculously easy to cheer me up simply by directing cheerfulness towards me. By the same token, I am near useless at cheering other people up without concerted effort, as I pick up their melancholy as if it were my own.
Somehow, I soak up more than just emotion. Sometimes I feel like I am made entirely out of other people’s thoughts and opinions, pasted together into a semi-functional human whose most prominent views are whichever ones I was exposed to most recently. I listen to impassioned speeches and are driven to their causes. I watch beautiful videos and mimic their production styles. I read excellent prose and my thoughts transform into others’ voices, pushing me to write as viscerally as others, even though I feel like a fool for trying.
This may also be the reason I have so much trouble reading accounts of tragedy in the world. On one hand, people can shut down their empathy. We can read news headlines with blank faces, shake our head at the world, and move on. But when I stop for a moment to think about the people that were harmed, whether it was a terrorist attack or natural disaster or murder or rape or any other atrocity humans routinely commit on other humans, I can’t help but remember their humanity. I think about how I am a mess of emotions and contradictions and memories and I’m so full of dreams and goals and plans I’m fit to burst. I know that I’m not any more alive or important than any other human, which means that everyone else is full of life and love and I can’t stand knowing what crimes have been committed to their bodies, their hopes, their lives. I try not to think about that when I read the news, because I just don’t want to accept pain that is not necessary for me to bear.
But is this pain necessary? Do we have to feel for other people in order for the world to get better?
Honestly, I think that we do. We have to recognize the essential humanity of other people. There are so many problems in this world that are caused by not thinking about and treating other people as complete human beings.
This leads me to more questions, personal questions about my own life. Making things makes me happy. In my life the only things that consistently fill me with genuine fulfillment and happiness are creating nice things and spending time with people I love. However, I don’t know if I could live with myself if I didn’t spend a large part of my life helping others. There is so much in this world that needs help, how can I not? How can I not choose a career that allows me to devote as much time as possible to bettering the world?
I don’t know. Maybe none of us know. Can we figure it out together?