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On Empathy

I had dinner with some relatives recently and happened to notice the following exchange between a teenage relative (I think between 13-15 in age) and his grandmother.

Grandma: Are you done eating already? Here, eat this (starts picking up some food to give to him)

Teenager: No, I’m not hungry – *Grandma puts the food in his plate anyways*

Teenager: *Grumbles about being ignored* I already told her I wasn’t hungry, why doesn’t she listen to me?

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed inside, because I knew exactly how he felt. This happened all the time with my own mom. I couldn’t stand it when I was younger. Even though I could empathize with him, now that I look at it from my current perspective, I feel that my own needs aren’t really that important. Sure, the grandma isn’t listening to what the kid wants, but that’s more of an issue about frustration from lack of control. That’s a petty feeling that can be subsumed by what the other person is offering, which is genuine feeling of concern for your well being. Sure, the gift that’s being offered isn’t what you want, but who gives a shit – if someone else takes time out of their day to care about you, my philosophy is that you should gratefully accept their sentiment. I guess that’s probably the biggest change for me in growing up – when you’re young, you focus on yourself. But as you grow up, you need to pay attention to other people as well. Your needs are no longer the highest priority. I used to be a dick growing up. I still am, too, but now at least I notice when I’m being a dick to others – and understand is half the battle, right?

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