Day 164: Share someone’s pain.Posted: June 13, 2011
I’m not sure there are four more insulting words in English than “I feel your pain” — because, in almost every case, they’re absolute bullshit.
Plenty of things people say are bullshit; the bullshit is not the problem, exactly: the problem is that, in this case, the bullshitter completely trivializes the pain felt by the … uh, the one feeling the pain. The bullshittee?
“I feel your pain” seems to get used in two types of situations. It is, on one hand, part of a ritual of kvetching: it’s insincere and bullshitty, sure, but the kvetching is equally insincere — or, if not exactly insincere, still passionless and unconvincing. I find this usage of “I feel your pain” insulting only because of the context, because I hate listening to people complain.
The other type of situation in which the phrase gets used — or, more probably, some variation of the phrase that contains the sentiment in different words, because I think the only people who use the exact phrase are assholes, in the technical sense of the word —— where was I? Oh, right: the other situations in which this sentiment is expressed are those in which actual pain — usually emotional pain — is being felt, and in such situations the bullshitter has no idea what the bullshittee is going through.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that my wife keels over and dies tomorrow (I love you, dear): I think it’s safe to say that other people whose spouses have died are absolutely not going to be the ones to say “I feel your pain” — because they, having experienced a similar pain, understand how intensely personal and unshareable that sort of pain is.
I’m not saying that sympathy and empathy are bad things, or that we ought to ignore people’s grief, or people who are grieving — I mean, I don’t ever feel sympathy for anyone, but that’s because I don’t have feelings at all — but there’s a difference between genuine sympathy and bullshit sympathy. Genuine sympathy doesn’t express itself in trite phrases.
All of this is why I interpreted today’s task much more literally, and smashed my thumb with a hammer. Somebody, somewhere, I’m sure, also smashed his or her thumb with a hammer, at about the same time, and I like to think that it hurt less, because I’d done the same thing, but on purpose.
That’s how it works, right?