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in deep ocean with no fins or gills

Despite having a lovely day teaching amjhawk how to do tune-ups and oil changes, birds chirping and the sun shining and all that as we worked under my carport, having a three-hour lunch at Yello Sub while playing games, I later found myself getting all blue. Why? It seems silly.

I used to think that optimism and empathy were good things, but I'm not so sure any more. I am both strongly empathetic and optimistic, and I realized this means that eventually I will feel pain about everyone I know because everyone suffers and that makes me sad; everyone makes stupid decisions once in a while and I feel bad about that. Worse, I frequently disappoint myself by not being all I want to be, by doing - or not doing - things that I later regret, and so on.

Being optimistic means that you expect a lot from people and situations, especially yourself and the things you do. Everything will work out right if we take the right steps toward the good things in life, right? But we all make mistakes all the time. Things don't always work out the way we had hoped, even if we did everything right, even if the stars line up for us. Shit happens. Sometimes people even work against us. This makes optimistic people feel especially disappointed and hurt, as if we're alien species, unable to communicate.

Being empathetic means that when someone suffers, you feel some of what they feel; if they're someone you're close to, you feel a lot of pain. The world roils with an ocean of suffering that threatens to drown us all the time, flailing with our puny human arms to stay above the waves that get more turbulent as we listen to the news (what I usually call "the bad news"), read tales of sadness on LJ and, well, just live. We humans can't breathe under water, and we get so tired by constantly flailing. If only we had gills; if only we had fins. But people who are so empathetic don't seem well suited to living in this ocean. We are small and naked and fragile.

However, these traits also have a positive side: Empathy means one gets to smile and laugh a lot at other people's happiness and success. Optimism means one gets to live life as if everything will work out, and that means you're more likely to take the necessary steps to make things work out.

Why have these traits survived the red-in-tooth-and-claw evolution of the human species? What real good do these things do for us? Eventually we all inhale water while flaining to stay afloat; we are the wrong species for our environment, and these repeated drownings threaten to erode our optimism. I fear for losing that trait, even though it seems to have caused me more grief than good. And empathy: Can we lose that over time? It only seems to grow deeper for me the more pain it causes.

Sheesh, being a human is hard work. No grand conclusions here.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2007 01:25 pm (UTC)
I want to stay up all night talking about this sometime.

This just gets me thinking how rarely I'm in "deep thinking" conversations anymore, and they were **so** frequent when I was younger.


Apr. 30th, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow
This is why I so much enjoy hanging out with da boyz on Thursday nights: Young people are just learning all this stuff, so it's still powerfully present in their lives.
(Deleted comment)
May. 1st, 2007 04:09 am (UTC)
Interesting! Hm, this gets me thinking....
May. 1st, 2007 03:50 am (UTC)
Yes this interesting. My only wonder is "Can one lose one's optimism?" That's part of the point of the Book of Job, I think: Undermining who we are. That was part of my point in "Waiting for the Pointer to Stop" in Eric's antho.
May. 1st, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
That seems to be a big point of the Old Testament: familial murder, rape, incest, xenocide, superhuman beings killing first-born boys... it's as if the Old Testament God wanted to burn optimism out of us.
May. 1st, 2007 04:45 am (UTC)
Oh no. There's a point to every story, but it's often buried in subtext that's mostly lost to us now.

Let's take the story of Lot. I don't call it the burning of Sodom and Gommorah for a reason. It begins with Lot's greed. He falls into a really villainous crowd. And then it ends with his daughters sleeping with (raping?) him. The whole point is the people that they spawned. I forget the name, but they were considered evil.

A lot of the xenocide stuff doesn't list the crimes. Maybe they could have been reformed, but that's the whole point in having an Old and New Testament. The New Testament is like the epiphany of the Old.

Talking about the Bible with non-believers is difficult though. You've got to be able the trace the narrative arc. Usually, non-believers just see the stories as unconnected bits. I wonder why. It makes me believe that Holy Spirit does exist--I forget the exact wording of the verse. But it also makes me wonder why it doesn't open everyone's eyes.

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )