Since last weekend I have noticed friend after friend surrounding their Facebook profile pics with the rainbow flag themed solidarity frame. Others have posted photos of banners they have seen hanging from buildings saying “Love Beats Hate” and similar empty Tweet worthy slogans. For the love of Pete, the people posting those things hopefully got good positive vibes from the courageous acts of framing pics and re-tweeting slogans
I was thankfully conscious enough of my own opinions about empathy as something craved by women and some others to cause me to file those moderately frustrating things away for future reference (Hypothetically in a post I thought I’d most likely never get around to writing anyway).
Then, daily life intersected with the big wide world by way of empathy.
Have you ever started or seen someone else start doing an obvious chore (like scrubbing a pan left in the sink,shifting laundry from wash to dry, feeding pets,unloading clean dishes, emptying a full trash can) and then once the task is started someone says, “you don’t need to do that, I was going to do it”?
There are all sorts of people that reside all up and down the spectrum between doer and procrastinator. Some do things that clearly need doing. Others eschew mundane tasks and are not bothered by undone chores. For some it depends the nature of the chore. But one thing I am certain of is that those who we’d call doers have experienced what I described. If the doer is old enough to have been in a stable family for any length of time they have experienced it from the same person or persons to the extent that it is expected. And if they are like me, it is mostly ignored.
I think of invitations I have had extended to me for events that the party inviting me knew I was unable to attend. They could be inviting me out of genuine hope that I may end up coming, or they may be getting credit for the invite without incurring the cost of my acceptance.
Of the two scenarios, the later is more likely to be innocently perpetrated. The former may be perpetrated unawares by rote, but it is not perpetrated innocently. Because “I was gonna do that” means the person saw the needed chore and chose to leave it undone at least once. More likely they did so multiple times as they passed through the area where the chore resided. Therefore “I was gonna do that” is a preemptive defense mechanism.
A teen in the home is capable of honestly having said intention and forgetting it multiple times within seconds of passing it by. This is not to excuse them, rather to say that at least in my experience they happily complete the work if reminded while standing beside it.
However the most responsible teen in the room will actively put off the chore, saying so openly, before later saying “I’d have done that”. Its as if they knew they would eventually get the chance to say that. All the better if others are within ear shot. Bonus for others being visitors from outside the home. All the credit for intent, none of the cost of effort.
The most responsible teen in the room is the one who convinces folks of her abundance of good intentions. That needn’t mean stuff really got done.
Empathy plugs the hole that is opened when someone doing a duty creates sympathy for the doer doing what the person deploying the acoidance language knows they should have done. It needn’t be a sympathetic act. No one need be hurt or hungry. Empathy can be manufactured by imagining the person doing the task is harried, the fact that she -was gonna do it- fills the hole of imagining relieving the doer of the burden. The burden can be real or not, made big or small. Empathy will fill the hole created by the burden.
Doing the chore will not reward her with empathetic feelings. Avoidance will. I’m not suggesting premeditation throughout where its orchestrated all day to get the bump of empathy in the evening when the doer does what needs done. It is rather a form of rationalizing that is done at the level of instinct.
Another scenario is that the one craving empathy perceives a task as completely unnecessary. If they actually do the task they can take on martyrdom for doing what they see as a whimsical chore for someone else. Later, empathy is garnered by getting noticed as a martyr when among fellow travelers. Secondary things tend to get done while things of a more primary nature are avoided.
I do not consider these things petty.