Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Empathy part III: the Truth



Four months ago a close friend made this simple comment: “I’ve had people tell me that they had to stop reading your blog because it was so negative.”

Wow.

What can I say to that?

I didn’t. I nodded, tears behind my eyes, and our conversation continued, ignoring the comment altogether. Ignored it ever since.

I’ll be honest: I have not considered myself a positive person, at all, in my life. Even now, positivity is something with which I deeply struggle. I have, on a whole, taken a very bleak view of life, the world, and humanity in general. Why I developed that part of my personality over all others, baffles me. See, I didn’t/don't perceive myself as negative; I have been ‘me’ my whole life, my negativity or a meanness unaddressed for my first 20 years. Pessimistic, yes. Dark, definitely. But not negative. Those few attempts to educate me fell on anxious and depressed and sarcastic ears. All I heard when people tried to address my pessimism: “you are a failure, and no one cares about you or who you are.” The truth of those feelings, of course, still cannot be substantiated.

During those years I considered myself a realist. I saw the world as I believed it was. I saw people as they were. I was the person ‘brave’ enough to tell it like it is. My favorite anachronism attacked the dichotomy of optimism and pessimism: do you see the glass as half empty or half full? Me: depends, did you pour water into the glass, or did you dump water out? I thought I was clever, that I knew better, that I knew myself better. I think we all do at that age.

Since hearing I'm “so negative” (accompanied with "it is toxic to be around you and your negativity"), I haven't been able to get it out of thoughts, troubled by the root(s) that feed these decaying branches. I spent time reading, writing, thinking, too much thinking in the middle of the night, praying and praying and praying, talking to friends (without revealing my concerns), and spending time (most importantly) with my wife and children. To learn. To know. To see why, why I nurtured this deplorable aspect of my personality. And when I stumbled upon the answer, the simplicity and source of it all, shocked me far more than it should. How I could miss something so obvious, so basic, so necessary and even instinctual, that it is no wonder I spent the last 30-some-odd-years in fog and shadow and darkness. The answer begins, first, with addressing a topic that has plagued me for nearing on a decade:

Empathy.

The word of mysterious meaning I devoted far too much time trying to deconstruct. I first wrote about Empathy in a less-than-positive attitude towards its meaning. Empathy and Masochism I wrote over two years ago. Littered with negativity and antagonism. The second half of that self-righteous diatribe was to follow shortly thereafter; but it never did. Instead, that same year I wrote Part II, a self-important ‘reflection’ on my writing that inadvertently begged the question: what are you doing? All my previous writings are littered with a litany of pessimism and self-proclaimed prognostications on life, the universe, and everything, with the caveat that I was now a University teacher. I considered it pragmatic, however, simply put: it was negative. All of it. I saw it. I read it. Negative against language, against people, against the past, present, and future of living. Not a shred of it bore any positive notions, outlooks, expectations, or conclusions. Even in an attempt to relate the word Empathy to a Godly attribute, it still manifested self-indignant maleficence. Through it all, I maintained the belief that Empathy is humanly impossible: we can never feel what someone else is feeling, cannot truly relate to another in an attempt to comfort, support, serve, or help; we are lucky if we can sympathize and offer love. But even then, we are mortal and selfish. That was the idea, anyway. It was negative. A bashing of a beautiful concept, an ideal that humanity should strive towards. Because I didn’t understand its meaning, I didn’t understand its purpose or its intentions. Or the need for Empathy's existence in our language.

Then (as cliché as it sounds), it hit me:

I had no Hope.

My understanding of Empathy was through a lens of Hopelessness.

As long as I can remember, I lived without Hope. No Hope in myself, in my talents, in my family, in my friends, in my passions, in other people; no Hope to be loved, to be wanted, to be desired; no Hope that I would, or could, succeed in life or find my place among the world, in the world, and be someone. Even as a young child I remember not believing in my abilities. Whether in sports, music, engineering (Legos of course), or school, I didn't believe in me or of what I was capable. Regardless of any positive results, I hated myself which came out in pessimism, sarcasm, and just the most negative personality. It was easier to dwell in self: pity, doubt, deprecation, loathing, and the list goes on.

This Hopelessness (I think) was generated from fear. Fear of living (which encompasses far too much to explain here). Unfortunately, that fear developed into a deep-rooted social anxiety that coupled with its ugly step-sister: depression. And once caught by those two, what little possibility for Hope that may have lingered, died.

By high school, I was completely devoid of Hope. I got up each morning because I didn’t know what else to do. I went to school because what else is there? I performed well in classes because it seemed miserable to do poorly (plus, academia came naturally). I went to church because I was raised Mormon. Everything I participated in came out of routine, or obligation; that's just what you're supposed to do: you do things over and over, year after year, and eventually you die. I didn't know what else was possible. I didn't think for myself; I didn't make choices. Instead, I thought about death a lot. Thought about suicide a lot. Never planned or strategized. But I thought about it, about how I would do it. I kept quiet, though. Because I ‘knew’ that no one cared. If I disappeared into the black oblivion, no one would notice. That mentality carried me to college, to my mission, to my marriage, to more college, to all my friends, to work, to my children, and to the last few years in Rexburg where all of the Hopeless feelings and stresses of life and work and marriage and family came to a head and something had to give (that story is for another time). I faced a choice: give up on life, or change my thoughts and actions. I’m still here, so you know how the story ends, for now.

To those I have upset, offended, turned away (I hope you might be reading this), frustrated, or brought down under foot: I am sorry. I want(ed) my writing to be a place where people could find reality, a place where the ‘dismal existence of humanity’ was splayed open for all to see, to help others realize that they do not struggle alone, that the fears and sorrows and disappointments often found in this life were not edited out from the ‘minor’ successes. Instead, my words became a pit of self-indulgent and self-important vexations to make myself feel better. Rather than build myself up to meet the height of others, I dragged everyone down to my level.

In the last eight months, after many doctors and counselors and medications (again, story for another time), I no longer allow myself to live Hopelessly. I have a long way to go, and I Hope to share a lot of it here.

There are many changes coming soon. And more true stories.

As it turns out, my blog has been nothing but pessimism that I cloaked with ‘realism’, as if my dreary perspective attempted to see the world for what it is. And perhaps it was, at least in the best way that I understood myself (which was limited). Still is, at times. I was disappointed when I read through my old writing, not at the quality--it sounds boastful, but sometimes I was impressed by what I wrote--no, I was disappointed at how I not only viewed the world, but I how expressed that view to others. Like I said, I hid behind the cloak of ‘realism’, of 'honesty', of not holding back when and where others do, being raw and uncut, laying it all out there in the bright sun for all to see. Instead, I took a magnifying glass and scorched every single person who read through these posts.

For that, I am sorry.

I say goodbye to THE YEARS AFTER, and Hope for something better. I Hope to find out what that is here, with you.

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