empathy and pathos

I’ve written about empathy a few times on this blog. There’s something about it that seems to be crucial to being a human being, an artist and a citizen. On friday night, the conversation turned to empathy and it’s relationship with being able to learn languages. A friend was noticing the link between his partner’s inability to pick up languages and her lack of understanding about the more pathetic aspects of his personality. i use the word pathetic here intentionally, as it highlights the link i’m interested between empathy and pathos and that etymological goodness in between. The polyannas of this world, who prefer to only laugh and dance and skip, not to stir in the muck of difficult feelings like sadness and despair, miss out on the depth of subtleties of the human condition.
oh, “the human condition”, hey. romanticism is sooo 19th century..-ed

I guess when it comes to understanding and having a compassion for the way another person is – to walk a mile in their mocassins, to be able to talk their language – pathos is crucial. You need to know what it feels to hurt, as pain is universal. In fact, i think pain traverses cultural and linguistic barriers more so than happiness, love, freedom. We all have slightly different definitions, needs and expectations of love, joy and other lovely feelings. However, i think grief, anger, pain – all those wonderful experiences – resemble each other across the divide. The way we deal with them, mind, is so different that it’s ridiculous. But if you say to me ‘ i’m sad’, i know that i have felt sadness too and can relate to how you feel, whether i enjoy it or not. but i don’t need to wonder about translating that into something i can define. Whereas, if you tell me you’re in love, i think that i have been in love too, but there is always a sense of difference, perhaps an insecurity of whether i have really felt what you feel and whether we speak of the same experience.

I believe that it’s the pathetic, uncomfortable elements of us that are interesting. I see them as points of intersection between one language and another (empathy) and perhaps between the public and private self (identity).

image credit: mazoons

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