I can be unkind and cynical. That’s a fact. I can literally tear into people I perceive to be mentally weaker than I am. As my husband once said (about a week ago, I think, and I won’t get the quote quite right)–what was it? He likened my way of training/correcting others to verbally jabbing people in the eye with a carrot and whacking them with sticks. Or something. Ultimately, I’m an absurdist. If somebody else doesn’t spot the absurdity, I’m going to do it. Sometimes, I recognize that my favorite pastimes are an indication of mixed-up priorities. Most of the time, I’m perfectly content to keep my priorities as contrary as possible. With all that out of the way, I must apologize for my gut reaction of cynicism to what I call the Special Victims Unit.
If you are part of this unit, you won’t recognize it, so don’t worry about being offended. Okay, you might. But if you do, you’ll go on the defense because that’s what special victims do. They defend their precious right to be offended by everything because You don’t know me! You don’t know my life! How dare you judge me?! A long time ago, I made a joke of this in my About Page, though there were probably those out there who assumed this was a serious sentiment. After all, it makes sense with this–if not real-world–internet mentality.
Now my apology seems a little misplaced, I suppose, because I’ve allowed myself to revel in yet more cynicism and mockery. As I said, I probably have mixed-up priorities. In addition, I have a very base default position of annoyance at the world. Moving on from there, I’m going to explain why the readiness to be offended and feel especially victimized irritates me–as well as why the binary opposition position of “toughen up” also grates. As an example of the opposing position, read this: Why My Kids Are Not Center of My World. It happens to be a blog post from a blog I’d never read before this article was the “Share of the Day” on Facebook. Okay, so if you don’t want to read it, it’s basically about raising children so that they don’t grow up with feelings of entitlement, or of being special victims of bullying. It’s a sort of “tough love” method of child rearing, which, on the face of it, doesn’t sound all that bad. And it isn’t. Children do, indeed need to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them so that they don’t grow up to be special victims and, hence, join the Special Victims Unit.
So, what is my problem, anyway? My problem with both positions is that they tend to squelch the imaginative thinking involved in sympathy. When people are wrapped up in being special victims, they believe that nobody understands what it’s like to go through what they’ve been through. How do I know they believe this? They say so; that’s why. See what happens when you pass judgment on a special victim. They insist upon the uniqueness of their suffering as an essential truth. However, this imaginative thinking is the opposite of the sympathetic imagination. Solipsism is inherent to human nature. Even our imaginations are tainted by it. We view the world through a lens of our own experiences, and this tendency should teach us that suffering is tantamount to being human.
Conversely, when people are wrapped up in being tough and no-nonsense in their relationships with others, they also miss the boat of sympathetic imaginings. They are, perhaps, even tougher nuts to crack than the Special Victims because they don’t necessarily retreat for introspective examinations of self. Introspective types, even introspective Special Victims, will often work through their issues and then reenter the world at large and become sympathetic toward others. But what of those who insist that navel-gazing is nonsense, who never examine themselves–as even the philosophers suggest doing? Plato asked, “Why should we not calmly and patiently review our own thoughts, and thoroughly examine and see what these appearances in us really are?” Really, why don’t we? Why are people who are tough nuts so hard to crack? Perhaps, they come at sympathy from a different angle. Perhaps, they don’t always allow for imaginative leaps, but simply do what they perceive to be right from a rational or practical perspective, which very well might appear to be sympathy from the outside.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’m exhausted. The screen is blurring in front of my eyes, and yet, here I am, typing. I hope you have some sympathy for my harsh words and my incoherent, half-asleep rambling. A long time ago, in the late 18th C, there was a movement called the Cult of Sensibility. Sensibility, in a simplistic sense, was an imaginative projection of sympathy toward humans as individuals. It involved the wonder of nature shaping the imagination–in other words, it was outwardly projected. But it was also contemplative. It had its excesses, as all human movements will, but I find myself longing for a life-changing philosophy, the kind that leads to right action both because it’s rational AND because we’ve learned to understand other human beings as well as ourselves.
But the understanding–the sympathetic imagination–that is, as far as I’m concerned, the basis for the Golden Rule, is often absent in our world. Jesus assumed humans were self-loving solipsists. That’s why he taught us to use our experience-based knowledge to treat others well: Do unto others as you would have others do to you.. Now it’s time to cue the ending song and dance: “If you find yourself a Tough Nut, in a rut…you know what to do! If you find yourself a Victim, but your wounds, you’ve already lick’t em…you know what to do!”