There is always that one person who didn’t cry at the end of Marley and Me, and whom you know lied about sobbing when Leonardo DiCaprio—uh, I mean Jack—died in Titanic. And we always ask them why, to which they will reply something along the lines of: “well, it wasn’t real. It’s all fiction.” Which is a good point, right? And anyway, who cares? It’s not like if you don’t cry in movies then you’re an intrinsically bad person or something. It doesn’t reveal anything about your personality, does it?
Well, maybe it does. In fact, I’m almost certain that it does. Here’s why.
It’s normal to feel sympathy when your classmate accidentally smashes the beaker in the Science lab and receives a detention, henceforth missing out on soccer tryouts or whatnot. It’s normal to feel empathy when your best friend gets the news that his or her parents have decided marriage is not suited to them anymore (very quickly, the difference between empathy and sympathy: sympathy = “that sucks, bro”; empathy = “I feel you, bro”. Absence of the word “bro” = apathy, and the fact that you’re a terrible person. I’m only half-joking.).
What should be hard and abnormal is having those feeling for people and animals that do not and never will exist; that we know for absolute certain are imaginary, and simply occur in the form of scratches on a page, or pretty-looking camera angles. But it’s not. For some reason, it is socially acceptable to cry your eyes out and turn off the TV when David Tennant regenerates.
I’m going to use a quote from the truly professional and highly trusted source of the TV show Community: “You know what makes people different from animals? We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even observe Shark Week, but we do… Because people can connect with anything.”
This is a pretty nice idea once you think about it, but if you actually start to examine it then it becomes much, much deeper. The ability to empathise is so much bigger than what we give it credit for. It is the reason straight people fight for gay rights, why men become feminists, why people in decidedly developed countries are working their butts off to end poverty in countries that have absolutely nothing to do with them. It’s not just a pretty nice idea: it’s incredible. And the fact that we can stretch out those feelings toward characters that are mere figments of other’s imaginings, communicated in such a way that it can be publicised—it’s just inconceivable.
It is my belief that empathy is one of our greatest tools, weapons, and shields. Without empathy, and without insight, it would be impossible to form the best of relationships, and we would live in a world of narcissists and basically fall into anarchy. It’s the greatest trait that a human being can have.