Back in Business: Frustration and Empathy

When the schools shut down, I immediately started homeschooling my son. My daughter, however, is in high school and it was more convenient to keep her registered in the online version of school. There was only one problem. She doesn’t have a working computer. I’ve been sharing my work laptop with her, doing my editing and writing in the morning and allowing her to use my computer for the afternoons. That’s why my blog has gone silent again. There is always a reason, I’m sorry to say. I prioritize. Oh, and by the way, I hate writing long posts on my phone for the very salient reason that my phone autocorrects and causes errors if I’m not paying attention (I just noticed it had autocorrected “martial” to “marshal” in my previous post. That’s the sort of error that brings me to tears. Okay, maybe not tears, but definitely angst. Words mean things.)

Now school is out for the summer, and I’m allowing myself the luxury of writing a post. Of course, I’m trying to decide whether to use this moment as a way to funnel my frustrations, or to highlight the positives life has thrown at me. It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? I’m frustrated. Isn’t everybody, especially those who live in places where people aren’t getting sick or dying of Covid 19, and yet their governors are still trying to suppress commerce? And then these frustrated people try to take refuge on social media, only to be bullied by self-proclaimed compassionate people who lack empathy for anyone they dislike? This situation is going to breed frustration and desperation. It’s no wonder armed protestors showed up at the Michigan state capitol. Yes, I have compassion for those people.

The thing is — and yes, I’m sorry, the frustration won out this time — people are not cardboard cutouts. Let’s take the famous Karen meme, for example. Have you met a Karen? Most people in customer service have. Being that I’ve worked at numerous cafes over the years, I’ve had to deal with Karens more than I would have wished. But the nice thing about cafes is that they operate like bars. Eventually, the baristas can get most of their regulars to open up about their lives. Do you know what I learned about one famous Karen, years ago? She was mean because she had just lost her job, and her husband lorded over her at home. Her attempt at taking back control in her life might not have been the most ideal or appropriate, but she was certainly not the cardboard cutout the internet wanted her to be. That’s from the perspective of an employee having to deal with an awful customer and realizing the awful customer was an actual human being.

But I also had a friend, for years, who was a Karen. She always got her way. Always. She was frustrating and mean but also incredibly generous and charitable, raising her nephew while caring for her own four kids. She was very active in her tiny hometown church and homeschooled and took all the kids to science and art museums for fieldtrips and supported her husband as he worked his way toward an obscure PhD. In being a Karen, she was simply trying to hold her world together — she was certainly not the internet’s cardboard stereotype of a woman who only cares about consumerism and getting her way. In fact, I went to her house and it was obvious her primary goal wasn’t consumerism. It was a small house with no fancy furniture and (for a time) a broken dishwasher. The family ate off melamine plates the children had made at craft fairs.

Why am I bringing up the most hated cardboard woman in the world today? During this time, in which the dividing lines have been drawn between those who don’t want to get sick with a novel virus and those who are desperate to keep their homes and businesses afloat, I see that even the aforementioned armed male protestors are being likened as “Karens,” as people who only care about their petty consumerism. And I honestly think that’s the image too many people in our nation have of conservatives: shallow people with no moral values, who go on shopping sprees and don’t care about anybody but themselves.

Sure, I could turn the tables a little and claim conservatives create cardboard cutouts (that was amazing alliteration) of liberals they don’t like, as well. Stereotyping and projecting is not isolated to people on the left. The right has their “soyboys” and “screeching feminist harridans.” I shared one of the stock memes of “soyboys” once, asking if there was a reason men like this went around with their mouths hanging open. I was corrected by a friend who knew these men in real life, due to his career in videogame development. “They don’t,” he told me. “They were just joking around when the picture was taken.” From his perspective, they were all decent men with senses of humor, and somehow a picture of them had been turned into a meme. Okay. I accepted the correction. How could I not? Somebody had humanized these men for me. Isn’t it awful that they had to? By the way, if you’re at all curious, you can find the meme with these three men by searching for soyboys; it’ll pop right up. It was even used as the lead image in a Return of Kings post titled “16 Signs That You Are A Weak Beta Male.”

Generally, when I try to humanize conservatives to people on the left, they won’t be corrected. They stand to their firm position because, as far as I can tell, their entire ideology is based off fighting against conservatives. There are some exceptions. I cherish those exceptions. I’m just surprised at how few and far between they are. I think of empathy as being a high moral ideal to strive for — the highest, really. It saddens me how many intelligent people aren’t willing to give it a try. It feels like a slap in the face when I am willing to try to understand them. However, if I’m going to be consistent with my empathy, despite all my human feelings, I will have to try to understand why some people are locked so hard into an us-vs-them worldview, too. I mean, I’ve already thought this one through. I understand. I simply don’t care for them creating cardboard projections of my friends and family.



  1. I have a theory* that we’re not really designed to hold opinions on large-scale events and the players involved. It has nothing to do with level of intelligence, it’s really a curse of information technology (starting with the telegraph) combined with our natural epistemic limits. I disagree with Scott Adams on a lot of things, but he summarized political opinions as the result of us “picking a side and supporting it.” The rationalizations and “appeals to policy” are post facto. Assuming this state of affairs as true, mischaracterizations of the side we don’t support are our way of bonding socially with others on our side. Given the (mostly) consequence-free nature of online communications, that’s the primary way we can bond with others while not in person. It’s not a great way of creating social lasting bonds.

    * For sure, others have come up with the same idea and expounded upon it, but I’m using my own verbal logic and don’t want to reference and mischaracterize (heh) other people’s opinions.

    1. Yes, picking a side and sticking with it, justifying it post facto–that’s basic tribalism. And I agree, it’s not a great way to bond with people when done online. I suspect not a great way to bond offline, too. I have close friendship and familial bonds with people who are diametrically opposed to my politics for the simple fact that we eat together. The rest is almost inconsequential. E.g., I have a lot of friends from my university days who I’m still friends with these days, ostensibly because we studied 18th C history together and appreciate that era of literature, but they are solely the ones I had dinner or drinks with or went to parties with (not college style parties, house-warming or baby showers).

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