Empathy Upgrade

Exhibit A

On 5th December 2017, just a little less than 2 years ago, a young woman killed herself. August Ames was 23 when she hung herself from the ceiling fan and asphyxiated to her death. August was a Canada born pornographic actress who had gotten herself into a twitter controversy.

August tweeted on December 3rd that she had turned down a job offer to work with a male artist who had earlier worked on gay porn and had not got himself tested adequately before offering to work with her in a boy-girl scene. She made the tweet less than subtle in expressing her disapproval and disappointment over the lack of ethics in the agents of the industry.

The LGBTQ community wouldn’t take this kindly and lashed out at August for the next 48 hours without rest or respite. She was massively criticized and was called Homophobic and discriminatory. Although a few pornstars and people from the industry backed her freedom to make choices of her costars, the LGBTQ community wouldn’t give her a break.

The bullying took to a fever pitch in just 2 days. Gay porn star Jaxton Wheeler wrote on Twitter: “The world is awaiting your apology, or for you to swallow a cyanide pill. Either or, we’ll take it.”

Finally on the 5th of December, she made one last tweet and killed herself.

Friends and near ones emphatically complained that August was a victim of cyberbullying. An autopsy conducted post her death also revealed that her body contained traces of cocaine, marijuana, Zoloft and Xanax.


Exhibit B

Incels are members of not so underground online forums. These online forums are mostly men, generally young heterosexuals who are incapable of finding sexual or romantic partners despite having the desire to socialize and form such bonds.

The group is explicitly violent in their ideology and openly endorses and encourages suicides. Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people.

Mass murderers in North America have either openly called themselves incels or have been adjudicated as incels based on their character traits. The first confirmed mass murder by an incel happened in 2014 when Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 14 others in the Isla Vista of California. He made a Youtube video about his pursuit of extracting revenge over the womankind for rejecting him and other sexually successful men for making it hard for him to find women. Elliot has since been hailed as a hero in the incel forums in the dark holes of the internet.

Inceldom or being an incel by itself is not a mental or psychological disorder. People who identify themselves as incels may suffer from physical and metaphysical disorders. The inability to socialise with women and insecurity over one’s appearance makes one push themselves to believe the world is conspiring against them in indulging in sexual and romantic relationships.

The lack of success in the romantic or sexual front is not uncommon, and neither is it a danger to the society. The problem arose when incels rose from amongst us and turned against the society.


The two stories of Exhibit A and B are stories of empathy; one a real life incident and the other about the existence of real world cult. Now you might think, how are these stories about empathy? they’re so not empathy, they are the exact opposite of empathy. While Exhibit A talks about how a group of people ganged up against a young lady and Exhibit B is about a group of sociopathic misogynists out there to spread hate and violence.

Empathy from the earliest times has been held as a virtue. To be able to hear another’s heart beat; to put your feet in another’s shoe. To understand, to hear to feel one another’s emotions had been praised as the biggest virtue one can have. So yes, the definition of empathy is amply clear, but how does it relate to our exhibits?

What’s happened today is we are trying to empathise, but with whom? empathy is really about understanding others. But what we’ve made it today is understanding others with whom we can relate to. This is the biggest misinterpretation of empathy.

To take an easier example, if floods hit my native state, I feel a stronger urge to donate for relief causes. If the floods hit a neighboring state, I might feel less strongly for the need to donate. Now the act of donating itself is about feeling for others. So I am being empathic towards the victims, but why do I feel strongly for one set of victims and not so strongly for another?
we’ve somehow misunderstood the meaning or misinterpreted it as empathy.

What happened in Exhibit A is that the LGBTQ community, which is generally about acceptance and anti bullying turned up the heat against someone who they thought was against them. So evidently, it boils down to the fact that the LGBTQ are open to acceptance of life choices and being liberal about it only when it comes to the people of the community and not anyone outside. If August wanted to work or not work with any artist, isn’t it her choice? why would the LGBTQ community lashout at her? can’t they empathise with her? or is that privilege reserved only to those with whom they can relate to?

Similarly the incens of Exhibit B, the incel forums are by far one of the darkest holes of the internet. They openly endorse suicides, killings, rapes and torture, for what?? because members of the group cant get sex? because I can’t get sex and I can relate to some other 25 year old virgin should I call him names and encourage him to go kill the girl who rejected him when he was 14??

What we saw in these 2 examples is people want to empathise, but we choose to empathise with only those with whom we can relate. So effectively, I’m feeling sorry for myself, or someone who’s more or less like me. Is this even empathy?

We’ve seen massive organisations of people and groups all over the world, on internet and in the real world. They have a common agenda, a feeling of being wronged or misunderstood. I’m not saying all organised groups with agendas are bad; self help groups, support groups, AA meetings, these are also groups of people who empathise with each other – or empathise clones of one another, but these are not bad.

So what makes empathy real? It’s quite simple really. Are you really in another’s shoe thats actually his or are you just wearing another’s shoe that looks just like yours?

The next time you feel like being empathic about someone or some group identifier, just ask yourself, Is it really someone else or am I doing this just to feel sorry for a different flavor of myself?


Take the Loss

It happened again. A third time. A stranger walked up to me and asked for money. This time again, like the previous 3 times I was left feeling guilty and retrospective of the incident.

The first time this happened I was at a McDonald’s in CP of New Delhi minding my own business. A middle aged woman walked up to me and asked if she could sit at my table. I moved my tray and made space. She didn’t have a plate or tray of food. She sat and started talking and I was being courteous, soon enough she said it was her birthday and she had come to the Hanuman temple nearby. I wished her a happy birthday and continued looking uncomfortable. She wouldn’t notice anything and went on talking, she said she’d had a fight with her mother in law and left the house without breakfast. I didn’t notice anything, nor did I feel sorry for her, it was new to me, where a stranger walks up, makes civilized conversation and suddenly says its my birthday and I haven’t had food.

I reached into my wallet and pulled out a small wad of loose change. There were 10s and 20s amounting to maybe 80 or 100 rupees. I handed it to her and said buy yourself a burger. I was confused by the look on her face. I was worried if she was offended because she did look from a respectable household. She was not. She counted the cash and looked up at me. “Give me 50 more and I can have a non veg meal” she said with a pompous air. Like I was selling something to her and she was bargaining to make a sale. I didn’t know what to say, I took off.

I have no idea if there was any truth in her story. The way she narrated at first made me feel sorry for her, but the way she counted the money and asked for more made me feel sorry for myself. Was she just a con or was she a bad natured and blunt person honestly hurting?

The second time, I was in college. Me and a friend were at the bus stop waiting to catch a bus to Nehru Place to get his laptop fixed. A man approached us and said he was from Muzaffarnagar in UP. He had come with his wife and 10 year old child to Delhi. On his way, they were robbed and all their money and luggage was stolen. He had no money, the child was hungry and they had no way of getting to Old Delhi railway station to catch a train back home. The man was willing to offer his watch, cloths and whatever he had on him if we could help him with some cash.

I didn’t know what to do. My friend was tugging at me and to make matters worse, the bus we were waiting for had to arrive at the next moment. I took the three 10 rupee notes that I had in my pocket as loose change and handed it to him before hurriedly being bundled into the bus.

There was no way of knowing if they were really in trouble or had I been conned. The man’s pleas seemed earnest and the wife and child looked really helpless. Even today when I’m reminded of them sitting at the bus stop with nothing more than the cloths on their back I fill up with guilt. Should I had heard the man out a little longer? Should I have tried to convince my friend to let go of me so that we could listen to what this man was saying?

The 3rd time. This past Monday near office. It was drizzling outside and I was waiting for my Uber. A man, who didn’t look drunk until he started talking locked eyes and said “Bother, will you do me a favor?” I didn’t talk so he continued, “I fought with my wife, left my phone and everything and came here. Now I don’t have money to get home. Can you help me?” I was repulsed by the stench of liquor, a saw that he was clutching to a tetra pack of apple juice in his right hand. I still hadn’t said a word.

If I try to beg for money, people wouldn’t give me anything. Everything’s right with me. So can you help me out here?” He had the drunk cavalier’s air around him. I didn’t feel like helping him. I walked away from him. I didn’t help him. The reasons could be many, that I didn’t have loose change in my pocket or that it was raining, or that it was getting late and here was a drunkard asking for money. I just walked off.

Parting ways with a little loose change wouldn’t have cost me much, but if he was in genuine trouble my little gesture would’ve really helped him. Perhaps this is what is called yielding to prejudice.

Such incidents happen with all of us, maybe not regularly but it happens when helpless people shed their egos and reach out for help from strangers they’ve never met before. One can even call this begging because they are so out of options that they have nothing else to do but ask for money from others with nothing in return to give. They are basically asking for mercy, for deliverance of some kind. How do we as the conduits of this deliverance react? We have less than 2 minutes to make up our minds. How do we judge characters so fast? How do we fight out prejudices and make a decision? It is so hard.

The easy way however is to take the loss. Parting ways with a small financial loss is a lot easier than living on with the guilt of being indifferent.

Hoping Against Hope

On the auspicious day of the official FIFA world cup qualifier draw, we were hit with some bad news. Goal.com which is literally the mouthpiece of IMG Reliance and FSDL made a post speculating the exit of Bengaluru FC from their home ground of Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru. It was a jolt! This had been our home since 2016 when we bid adieu to the smaller and astroturf-ed Bangalore Football Stadium since the number of fans had outgrown the 8000 seater.

Without going into details, lets understand that the news is not new that the Athletics Association of the Karnataka and Bengaluru FC have been fighting a turf battle in the Kanteerava. Now Kanteerava is a multipurpose stadium – most stadiums in India are. Hence the athletes of different track and field sports need the stadium to practice. When Bengaluru FC or BFC for cuteness, has a game coming up, it takes over the pitch for 2 to 3 days. This obviously creates problems for the athletes of other sports and hence the tiff. There has recently been a court order by the High Court of Karnataka that the stadium needs to be used only for athletics purpose and BFC needs to make way.

I just couldn’t believe it. Many couldn’t believe it. Staunch BFC supporters and fans were in disbelief and then in denial that we could actually lose our home. Many went on to create social media petitions and tried to spam or slander with FSDL, IMG reliance and even AIFF.

But inside, there was a hope that things will be fine and we will find a way through this. We will still play at our home ground. But what’s the reason behind this mad hope? Well nothing. The case as it stands doesn’t allow us to play in the Kanteerava stadium and the case will come up next for hearing only in October, by when our season would’ve already started. So why this hope? Why this belief of things are going to be good? I looked it up.

Apparently there is something called the Delusion of Reprieve. It was first found in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl.

The condemned man, immediately before his execution, gets the illusion that he might be reprieved at the very last minute.

Source

Basically, Mad hope.

This struck me hard. Not the meaning of Delusion of Reprieve but the fact that it happens so frequently in our lives. The earliest of examples I can think of from my life is when we first moved to the suburbs. There were only 2 buses to our house and it took a full hour to make the round trip. We would wait at the school bus stop waiting for the bus. It would get late, real late and we would know the bus isn’t coming this hour, but yet we would stand there and turn up at every sound of a heavy vehicle.

It also happens on a bad day at poker. It happens to everyone that you’re just dealt with bad hands. You check, bet low and fold time and again, and yet you continue to play. Hoping, and earnestly believing that the next hand is going to be good.

The easiest example that everyone will be able to relate is school. Don’t we all remember the days when hoped against hope that a certain teacher wouldn’t turn up at school? they wouldn’t check the homework books? just before reaching school had the feeling that there would be a board saying its a holiday?

Today it happened again, even though we have a court order against us, and on us for quite some time so that it has actually sunk in, we still harbor a secret hope. Hope that at the last moment some miracle man would save us, some miracle from god would bend the rules for us.

The trickiest part of the this effect is actually defining it. Because in the bare sense, delusion of reprieve is nothing but hope. And isn’t hope a good thing? a virtue to possess? Yes it is, and the trick lies in understanding when Hope turns into the delusion of reprieve. I’m not gonna try to define the line of distinction as its a changing line based on context and relevance. It is different for all of us, but what’s important and the actual objective of this post is to realize there exists a place to which we can descend into, where hope becomes insanity. So the next time you are locked in a box, ask yourself, is this hope tingling under my skin or is it the insane delusion of reprieve leading me to the fool’s paradise?

~*~

Solve For x

The problem is not the problem, you’re attitude is the problem. Said a legendary Pirate. Pop culture may have romanticized this pirate, but the quote would’ve sounded just as sweet had it come from an old crooner. Except the fact that crooners may not be willing to be problem solvers.

Capt. Jack Sparrow

Problem solving is a skill, the fruits of the trade lie in the process. The exhilarating experience of hitting dead ends, feeling the world press against you, and the never ending pall of gloom all add up and make the victory seem sweet. Sometimes it’s just an end that you’re craving for and not even victory.

Once it ends, you look for the next problem, next battle, next pall of gloom to fight through.

It was my father’s long standing dream of seeing the world, or to be more specific, seeing USA. Ever since I was a child – perhaps 6-7 years old, I had seen my father try for the foreign posting jobs at his work. Every time he would be disappointed, he would count and recount the sequence of incidents and stay disappointed for days on end.

As he got older and moved onto literature, he became active in the Kannada literature circles. He published 3 books in a single calendar year. He hoped against hope that the who’s who of Kannadigas in USA would notice his work and invite him over for a session or a reading or any other cultural or literary event in USA. The invite never came.

Finally, I put my foot down and said enough of trying and failing dad. You keep clinging onto hopes that others might give you an opportunity, but you’re just losing time. I think you should go on your own. You have the money, you have the health and you have the time. What else could you need?

Finally he went for it. Got the visa, got the tickets, got on the invite list of a few events, made a list of all the tourist spots, relatives to visit and shopping to do, and he went. Mission accomplished. It took nearly 35-40 years – or it could be more – but he had done it. What next? He started writing a book about all this – Ok maybe not about the 35-40 years, but more like a travelogue – but he had moved onto the next challenge – next x.

The story of the crystal merchant in the book The Alchemist is known to all. Here’s what you need to know about him if you don’t know already. If you don’t know and didn’t bother clicking the link, he wouldn’t do something, lets call it x because he believed there wouldn’t be anything to live for once he did his x. Did my father push his foreign trip or look for disappointing avenues to the trip because on the inside he didn’t want to go?

All of us love staying in the problem because we don’t know what we would do next, or rather what problem we would take up next to solve. Makes me ask, are we all always looking for problems? Maybe that’s why someone long ago though ignorance was bliss?

The truth is established that we all love to move on from problem to problem, because life is after all a game of improvisation, but what are we trying to improvise on? or rather improvise towards? An eternal state of bliss? Does moving from one problem to another count or does it mean we constantly want to remain in the problematic state? It sounds so cruel, but to sum this argument, you are either a problem averse person or you’re a person who loves to dwell in them.. how do we find a balance?

That’s the question. Its easy to say Moderation is the answer, but how to we moderate? The hell if I know.