The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Empathy. It's Not Just For Women Any More.

Attempt #2. I posted something on this yesterday and found that I was wandering so much that the focus was completely lost. I've done a little work on it and wanted to stick it back up here. Thanks for your patience. And, if you read yesterday's version...well, I've (obviously) cleared my head and I'm feeling muuuuuch better now.

Here’s a startling admission. I’m pretty heterosexual. If you’re shocked, appalled or feeling woozie, you should probably skip the rest of this and go sit down and put your head between your knees. Like most of my posts, it’s gonna do nothing but go downhill from here.

Without revealing any intimate details about anyone with whom I’ve had the pleasure (a discretion line my ex has felt entirely comfortable crossing…on his blog no less…despite his assurances to me to the contrary), I really like men. But I don’t mean that in a completely sexual way either.

That said, let me say that I've met a few men who could have used a little help in the empathy department. Maybe more than a few. To be fair, I've met a few women who were lacking there as well. I'm fully aware that bad character is not the exclusive domain of the penis-enhanced members of our tribe.

Further, I’m fully aware that men and women are entirely different beasts. More than that, I am fully aware that men and women approach most things from entirely different directions. Consequently, it makes the whole “coupling” thing tricky and complicated. Often, unnecessarily so.

It was suggested to me recently that men get a "pass" on certain things. Things like childbirth, sewing, cleaning toilets, empathy...stuff like that. Okay, you had me up to the last one. I'm kidding, of course. Men TOTALLY have to clean toilets.

That 'because they are guys' they are somehow exempt from consequences of their actions just doesn't work for me, though. I'm as guilty as the next chick of making the jokes that guys can't pick out drapes or don't know fashion rules, and maybe I'm completely naive here, but I don't think sensitivity is in that same ballpark. I don't think that 'that's how men are' works for me when someone's callous behavior and complete lack of remorse results in pain to another human being.

Mother's teach their daughters to develop their empathy, but do they teach it to their sons? Should they? Women everywhere are screaming "Yes, Yes, YES!!" Loud bitches, aren't they?

Teaching men to empathize with others, not just to feel for oneself, but to feel with and for others is not the impossible dream, folks. And, believe it or not, some mothers have already started this. (Special thanks here to Highlander's mum! You were ahead of your time, Carmazer!) If we don't break this cycle, are we willing to live with the consequences? Do we want our daughters to?

Taking the feelings and motivations and concerns of another human being into account before acting yourself is certainly an advanced skill level. One I'd like to see far more of in politics and the insurance industry, for sure. But it is not a gender-biased skill. Men have the capacity to be tender and compassionate. It's whether they choose to pursue the option or whether they opt to act in their own best interest without regard for others that separates the...well...good men from the bad men, I guess.

If anyone (man or woman) allows themself to be treated poorly, that's a shame. If they do it because they believe that's the best they can hope for, as gender differences have limitations, well, that's unenlightened, at best. I'm here to tell you, folks, it's a fallacy to believe that 'he's a guy' is some catch-all excuse for bad behavior.

It's simply an excuse.

Nothing more.

Empathy is generally learned in childhood, as the personality is formed. A trait of that kind should be a lifelong thing. If one never had it as a child, can one learn it as an adult? Or, if one had it as a child and discarded it, can it be regained? Or, if it's possible, how in the world do you set about reconfiguring who you are? I wish I had all the answers. I just don't.

For far too many years, I believed that the elusive sensitive man was like the Yeti. I'd heard tales, but had never seen one. As I've gotten older, I've been priviledged to have seen the real deal. So, I'm here to tell you, there are male members of our species who have empathy. Several of them. You can ditch the whole "men are just like that" sexist mentality and find a specimen of your own. They congregate in herds and can be found no where near a shoe store.


Blogger Lisa said...

My parents were kind of on sabbatical when I was growing up and so, as a group, the kids in my family learned about dependencies, but little about manners, etiquette, empathy etc.... We learned to say the 'n' word, tell inappropriate jokes etc... A true redneck household if ever there was one.
However, I did not become my parents. Purely through my choice. But there are times I know I come across as unempathetic, or unsympathetic to others due to a 'lack' of '?' on my part.
I learn something new everyday. Truly I do. And I have a wonderful, empathetic, sympathetic, wonderful husband who helps. Luckily, he looked beyond the peroxide blonde I was as a younger version and saw the true me.
You can learn some things, but some things you don't see or hear or get taught as a youngster; well, let's just say I always feel like I'm missing some key element.
Be well

6/14/2006 9:39 PM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Honestly, Lisa, it's wonderful to know that it's possible to learn the skill in adulthood. I truly believe that there is a component of empathy that is innate, but that a great portion of it is simply learned behavior.

Generally speaking, children learn faster and easier than adults, but that doesn't mean that adults can't or don't do it every single day.

6/14/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger tribe member said...

Lol, funny that you should mention that. I've been bitching about the general lack of empathy all around me for some time now. I'm actually embroiled in a semi-debate about Empathy on a philosophy forum website.

6/15/2006 2:00 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Gee, what do the folks (Wolfram and Hart employees, obviously) who are anti-empathy have to sell you?

It strengthens your individualism? It frees up space in your psyche for other pursuits? You no longer have to worry about Mother's Day/Father's Day/Birthday gifts for the people in your life, thus netting you cash?

6/15/2006 8:27 AM  
Blogger tribe member said...

They sell unenlightened self-interest. All it costs is your soul.

6/16/2006 3:00 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Sounds like they've already done their shopping. You'd have to be soulless to argue against empathy in the world. Wear turtlenecks!

6/16/2006 6:42 AM  
Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

My mom was good that way. Both of my brothers are sensitive and empathetic and change diapers and cook and clean toilets.

Me, on the other hand....

Seriously. This has to come from Mom. Wish Husband's mom had taken a break from keeping her house so clean you could eat off of every surface to teach her son a few things, but...that's life.

Like my dad always says, "women socialize men."

Or they damned well should.

6/16/2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Noticing (some six weeks after the fact) that someone has linked to my blog, has me wanting to post a minor clarification here. My post was talking in generalities, but as far as specifics, the person I was discussing the matter with was fully aware that the egregious behavior (as well as the lack of remorse) in question was not some distant incident. It was current and, in fact, on-going and did not involve me directly, but involved my children.

The post that linked back to this went on and on about leaving the past behind and I'm all for that, when it's at all possible. But, for the record, when the behaviors are still prevalent, it's not in the past. And when you're making excuses for it, you're making excuses for it.

Unconditional love having nothing to do with the behavior either, it really doesn't factor into why someone would behave that way in the first place. Though it does clarify why someone would put up with one incapable of empathy. I learned long, long ago that you can't change people. They are who they are. And while you can love anyone, you shouldn't mistake who they are. Choosing to love them doesn't change that.

8/07/2006 3:48 PM  

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