While I’m Processing…

Yesterday’s post turned out to be more of a “Dear Diary” entry than I had intended. I should have waited an appropriate period to process my time with Mom rather than writing from the midst of the experience. Who wants to read a laundry list of the day’s events? That’s what journal notes are for: a database from which to draw appropriate parallels, contrasts and juxtapositions. I’ll try to keep my ‘diary-ah’ under control.

Before I go on to the subject of the day, I just want to say that the visit to see my older brother Mike (autistic, low functioning, nonverbal) is still scheduled for Saturday. Little brother will be taking Mom, if she feels better, and me out to see him. I’m excited about that.

Back to empathy

While I’m processing the current week’s events, I’d like to return to the subject of empathy.  I posed the question whether empathy really exists in the post Empathy Take 1. In Empathy Take 2 I took another look, referring to Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Science of Evil, where he put evil in the context of the amount of empathy a person has. To review, Baron-Cohen defines empathy as the ability to maintain two points of focus: one’s own self and the self contained in another person.  In other words, an empathetic person sees another individual as a human being with his or her own mind and point of view, and is capable of imagining what it would be like to be that person. A person with little or no empathy, does not see another person on an equal par and either cannot or does not imagine that the other person can have feelings, points of view or other human traits. In effect, the other person is dehumanized. Since I am ‘on the road’ I don’t have access to my library of neuroscience books. Therefore, I again defer a discussion of the neural basis of empathy to a later time.

Practicing empathy

I’m not sure if my experience here at Mom’s qualifies as empathetic. I really enjoy meeting some of her friends. Just looking at them in passing, one would only see white-haired, bent-over, slowly moving people. When Mom introduces me, I find myself talking to actual people. I find it so interesting to discover who the person is, steering the walker down the hall. I was talking to one of my mother’s friends, originally from Canada. While she was telling us about a visit to her childhood home, I could see in her face that she was remembering what it was like. I told her about a current Canadian TV program about turn-of-the-20th century Toronto. She hadn’t known about it, and was interested in looking into it. I felt I had made a connection.

I’m not sure this is considered empathy, but taking the time to break through the stereotyped image of the old, gray, bent over person to find someone to talk with and share experiences, was very rewarding.

Maximal contrast

How odd is it that, while Mom is watching Hallmark on the movie channels, I just became immersed in the SHOWTIME series, Dexter. Dexter is a sociopathic serial killer in his spare time and a forensic blood-spatter expert by day. He was raised to channel his irresistible urge to kill in a Robin Hoodish way: kill only those who deserve it. He doesn’t understand his lack of feelings for anybody, but knows that he must hide his nature from everyone.

Dexter’s character is hard to imagine (empathize with) in real life. It must be very sad to not understand feelings of others, to the extent that they are seen as non-entities.


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