Monday, July 30, 2012

Good To Know: Empathy Vs. Sympathy, Plus Side Order of Empathic Concern

Empathy refers to the understanding and sharing of a specific emotional state with another person. It is the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another sentient or semi-sentient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion.

Sympathy, however, does not require the sharing of the same emotional state. It is an extension of empathic concern, or the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another human being. This empathic concern is driven by a switch in viewpoint, from a personal perspective to the perspective of another group or individual who is in need. Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but the two terms have distinct origins and meanings. Instead, sympathy is merely a concern for the well-being of another individual or group of individuals. Although sympathy *may* begin with empathizing with the same emotion another person is feeling, sympathy *can also* be extended to other emotional states.

Clear as mud? I thought so, too. Here's a definition of Empathy that I like: "The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings."

Whereas Sympathy seems to be an outwardly-generated emotional state. "There are some specific conditions that need to happen in order to experience sympathy. These conditions include attention to a subject, believing that a person (or group) is in a state of need, and the characteristics of a given situation."

"The state of need of an individual or group is also considered during the creation of sympathy. Varying states of need (such as perceived vulnerability or pain) require unique human reactions, often ranging from attention to sympathy. A person experiencing cancer might warrant a feeling of sympathy more than a person who has a cold. The conditions under which sympathy is selected as an appropriate response are organized more broadly into individual differences and situational differences."

Okay, I'm just going to keep going with the Wikipedia article, because this is FASCINATING and because according to this, I've been using "sympathy", and possibly "sympathetic to", all wrong!!

"The ways in which people think about human deservingness, interdependence, and vulnerability motivate the experience of sympathy. A person who seems ‘deserving’ of aid is more likely to be helped. A belief in human interdependence fuels sympathetic behavior; this belief is seen as somewhat selfish because helping someone who is connected to you through some way (family, social capital) will often result in a personal reward (social, monetary, etc.)
Sympathy also operates based on the principle of the powerful helping the vulnerable. Therefore, those who are perceived as vulnerable (young, elderly, sick) become the target of sympathy. This desire to help the vulnerable has been suggested to stem from the paternalistic nature of humans, where humans seek to protect and aid their children in survival. People help others as if they were their own children or family when they are in need.

Individual moods, previous experiences, social connections, novelty, salience, and spacial proximity can also influence the experience of sympathy. Individuals experiencing positive mood states and people who have similar life experiences are more likely to produce sympathy.
Spacial proximity, or when a person or group exists close geographically (such as neighbors and citizens of a given country), they will more likely experience sympathy towards each other. Similarly, social proximity follows the same pattern. Members of certain groups (ex. racial groups) favor people who are also members of groups similar to their own. Social proximity is intimately linked with in-group and out-group status. In-group status, or a person falling within a certain social group, is also integral to the experience of sympathy. With this reasoning, it would be easier to feel sympathy for someone with the same religious beliefs than for someone in a religious group that one is not a part of. Both of these processes are based on the notion that people within the same group are interconnected and share successes and failures and therefore experience more sympathy towards each other than to out-group members, or social outsiders."

Ooooookay. Okay. So: Empathy is what you feel, whether you act on it or not, when you perceive a human/semi-sentient being near you in distress. Cat, child, homeless person, significant other in a sad mood, etc. SYMPATHY is how you...react to your empathy, I guess. Does that sound right to everyone?

If it does, or even if it doesn't, I get to run with it because it's MY blog, so that's what I'm going with.

(Bonus round: Empathic Concern is just another term for Sympathy. Other acronyms used: compassion, pity. Again: active emotions that usually draw from "empathy" as a starting point, but are not *required* to do so.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Love Note

My amazing Entrepreneur went out and bought a mirror for me and installed it for me after I yelled at him about a lack thereof, and then he only went and bagged up the laundry and dropped it off at a laundromat. I may have yelled at him about that, too, back on Saturday night, after too much wine. And I'm not sure exactly what kind of awesome person is able to forgive and forget the drunken yelling, or even the sober yelling, and just does the things his partner requests of him, regardless of mode of communication, but I would like to stay with this awesome person for awhile. That is all.

*It helps that he speaks New Yorker. For him, "Do what I say or else I'm going to throw you off the loading dock" is a normal phrase to use in a business conversation. He is still a little surprised that that offends some people. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Mother Is Awesome

From a few days ago:

"Hi, I'm intrigued about 168 Hours after reading your post! Is that something I can download from the library to my iPad? The hard copy is unavailable, but the download IS available."

Me, in response: "Hi Mom, I’m not that familiar with the iOS (Apple Operating System) but you certainly SHOULD be able to download that book to your iPad! I’ll play around with it for a second anytime. Shouldn’t be more than a five minute test."

Her: "Maybe I should get it out of the box first, yes?"

And then, just yesterday: "Dear Daughter, Observation: You are communicating/posting more because you feel so much better (no back problems), the sun is out, and you have some cool new threads! Just my opinion!!"

Oh, Mom. You rock.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Garbage In, Garbage Out: Thoughts On Life

...and that reminds me, I need to take out ALL of our trash at the DR. We have hills of trash, and they're starting to form mountains, on which rests a light coating of dog-hair snow. We are growing LAND MASSES of garbage.

Which reminds me of Garbage Island. Which reminds me: buy more reusable bags. Humanity, we are horrible. More pictures of Garbage Island here.

Which reminds me of this post I wrote about rural Thailand, particularly this passage:

"Thailand in general has a waste management problem, and the Burmese school is in the slums, so there is trash everywhere, huge piles of it out back of all the huts. It's depressing. ...On the negative side, the Western culture of consummation of pre-packaged things--sodas and pre-wrapped sweets and things--has TRASHED the area, see the Waste Management problem, above."


That is not the point of this post at all. The point of this post is that for some reason I have "Oops, I Did It Again" stuck in my head, which I will not link to because no one should ever be forced to listen to that song, and for some reason I know ALL the words right now, I could sing the entire song a capella, and THAT started a train of thought that ended with: Garbage In, Garbage Out. I could meditate on the complete inanity of the lyrics of "Oops, I Did It Again", which are inane EVEN FOR A BUBBLEGUM POP SONG...

...OR, I could purposefully meditate on something a little more stimulating!

Which is how I got here:

"The sun, whose rays Are all ablaze With ever-living glory, Does not deny His majesty He scorns to tell a story! He don't exclaim, "I blush for shame, So kindly be indulgent." But, fierce and bold, In fiery gold, He glories all effulgent! I mean to rule the earth, As he the sky We really know our worth, The sun and I! I mean to rule the earth, As he the sky We really know our worth, The sun and I!

Observe his flame, That placid dame, The moon's Celestial Highness; There's not a trace Upon her face Of diffidence or shyness: She borrows light That, through the night, Mankind may all acclaim her! And, truth to tell, She lights up well, So I, for one, don't blame her! Ah, pray make no mistake, We are not shy; We're very wide awake, The moon and I! Ah, pray make no mistake, We are not shy; We're very wide awake, The moon and I!"

...what's funny is that the above kind of IS bubblegum pop, albeit from almost 130 years ago.  It's lyrics from one of the songs from the comic opera The Mikado, by Gilbert and Sullivan.

(Which reminds me: see Topsy-Turvy!) (Which reminds me: I've recently seen De-Lovely. Anyone else see this? Thoughts?*)

ANYWAY. I know this song because of the movie Brick, which is a fantastic movie that everyone should see immediately. (Entrepreneur hasn't ever seen it, which is especially wonderful because now I get to be there when he watches it for the first time.) (Unlike Jack of All Trades, which is altogether a different story.) (Pun intended.)

Where was I? Oh yes, Brick. Brick is a fantastic movie, as I was saying, and in it, at a party, a character recites part of "The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze". See clip:

Speaking of clips, may I just say that I love the internet? LOVE the internet? Because it provides space for people, in their spare time, and for no pay or recognition, just for the love of creation, to take hours and make things like this:

SO GOOD. So good. I dare you not to start laughing.

AND FINALLY. While looking for "The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze", I found this:

Bricklayer Love

I thought of killing myself because I am only a bricklayer
and you a woman who loves the man who runs a drug store.

I don't care like I used to; I lay bricks straighter than I
used to and I sing slower handling the trowel afternoons.

When the sun is in my eyes and the ladders are shaky and the
mortar boards go wrong, I think of you.

-Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg is probably my favorite poet, which is a statement I can make with confidence only because I'm not familiar with the work of very many poets, and Carl Sandburg is also the poet through whom I first even became INTERESTED in poetry. I pulled out a slim volume of his work at Elliot Bay Bookstore when I was in middle school; I remember it vividly. The smell of Elliot Bay Bookstore, the placement of the poetry section in the old location in Pioneer Square, the creaking of the floorboards, the fact that I read four poems from the book without stopping and bought it, and also a book of love poems and a book of William Shakespeare love sonnets, and I have no idea right now where any of those books are, given that they're in boxes, but I read the Carl Sandburg volume cover to cover and still REMEMBER the cover, although not the title. 
*mutter, mutter* I'm sorry, what was that? Oh, thanks, Internet, that was great. Here's the volume I fell in love with. 

To give credit where credit is due, I was looking for Carl Sandburg because we were studying Imagist Poetry in my summer literature** class, and the style spoke to me and fascinated me, mainly because it wasn't very long and I didn't have to slog through pages and pages of ABAB rhyming that wasn't even Shakespeare (which is what we were doing in my normal public school classes) and I couldn't see the point. 

As Pratchett says, way better than I do: (gods love you, Internet)

 "In theory it was, around now, Literature. Susan hated Literature. She'd much prefer to read a good book. ...It was a poem about daffodils. Apparently the poet had liked them very much. Susan was quite stoic about this. It was a free country. People could like daffodils if they wanted to. They just should not, in Susan’s very definite and precise opinion, be allowed to take up more than a page to say so."

...which reminds me of this quote, for my poor, beleaguered, Entrepreneur:

"She got on with her education. In her opinion, school kept on trying to interfere with it."

ANYWAY. Imagist Poetry and Poets, yes.  How I discovered Carl Sandburg, etc, although he's not technically an Imagist. I read Ezra Pound first, I think, and I liked him, too. And I believe that may be the end of this post for today.

(If you have time, DEFINITELY read that Imagist Poetry Wikipedia article. I didn't realize until I read it how much the style and movement affected, and generated, so many other styles and areas of interest that I like, including Sappho (I bought a book of her poetry not long after) and T.S. Eliot, who, to bring this full circle, was discussed during the Time On The Mountain yesterday, specifically The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock.)

(And if you have MORE time, definitely find a copy of The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock and read it.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Happy 35th Birthday, Love.

Entrepreneur and I celebrated his birthday by taking the Subaru out on mountain roads and spending several hours exploring, taking short hikes, scouting places to camp and shoot, and just generally breathing the sharp mountain air. We agreed on everything we discussed, from big things to little things, having one of those days in which you're just on the exact same page as someone else, and we were pleased about it.

Regretfully getting off the mountain, driving home, then stepping out of the car on the warmer and more humid temperatures of sea level--and we live almost on top of the port, so the difference is especially noticeable--I felt that my soul was full. It wasn't like the intense joy of skiing, or the intense tiredness that comes after that--it was a more calm feeling, one of...satiety, maybe. It was a more inner happiness, made all the better because I was with someone who was experiencing the same thing. I had been on The Mountain again.

Psalm 121:1. "I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help."

Skadhi was pleased, I think.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I'm always inspired when I take a moment to read a few pages of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. I'm working through it slowly, not because it's difficult to read--it's absolutely not, it's very accessible--but because there's so much to digest, and all this great material is hidden in plain sight, by such short words, that I have to take a lot of breaks. It's the opposite of not being able to see the forest for the trees; it's more like intentionally taking the time to make a complete study of each tree, not caring if you get all the way through the forest or not. A lot of her points simply MAKE SENSE to me, and then I have to go away and think about them for awhile before I feel ready to come back and read a few more pages.

Then again, I'm a sucker for this kind of writing style; I LIKE ideas that seem simple at first and then rattle around in your brain so much that you have to put the book down and really give that simple idea the meditation it deserves. Paradoxes, koans, one-sentence statements connecting the large and the small, the meta and the minute, and using thoughts expressed in those particular ways to attempt to classify and sub-classify human behavior into easily-chewable chunks; that's a style that both makes sense to me and fascinates me. (Just ask Entrepreneur. I tend to go on and ON about it at dinner.)

Back to 168 Hours: The mixed reviews on Amazon may mean I'm the only one who likes this writing style; no matter. It speaks to me, not only because I like the general idea communication style so much, although that's a terribly clunky phrase, but also because of its subject matter; I NEED this kind of simple style more than ever on certain subjects, like...time.

Everyone knows that ADD kids have a weird relationship with time, and meditating ON time--how to actively feel the seconds pass, how to expand a minute so that it contains the whole world--is a happy notion in the abstract but, like many meditative exercises (at least for me) sometimes the same result is achieved, and also more practically emphasized, by an accompanying small action, like Buddhist monks climbing the 314 stairs to the prayer room daily as a form of active meditation. This idea--of actively tracking minutes, hours, etc--is completely fascinating to me.

In the book she recommends keeping a time log on a piece of paper, and she has some very plain but quite fine examples of these kinds of logs, but really who can POSSIBLY carry a notebook around? Instead, me being me (duh) I found two apps, one web-based (Yast) and one app-based (Time Recording) and I'm OBSESSED. It's. Just. So. Fascinating. Why?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Sittin' On The Steps Of Broadway

It almost works, yes? Yes?

I'm sitting just off Broadway in the sun, reading the Stranger, in my new hat, and even though I can't clean anything ever again, or for at least a few months, whichever comes first, life could SERIOUSLY be worse.