Rebecca de Winter
: the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings
I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, to a certain extent. I think most people want to believe that of themselves. There is evidence we are hard-wired for it, with some studies suggesting modest levels of empathy can be observed before the second year of life. Indeed, it is considered uncouth in this day and age to abstain from “trying to understand.” Nevertheless, there are limits to how much we can empathize, without excessive cost to ourselves and our loved ones. And the progressive left has been pushing those limits beyond all sustainability for far too long.
Nowhere is this more conspicuous than with the full-blown nuclear-meltdown-level-tantrum we are witnessing from the left in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. All signs pointed to a win for Hillary Clinton, champagne bottles popping hours before the votes came in, delivering her a stunning, humiliating defeat. The day before the election, The Huffington Post published a breathless account of what would happen if Trump didn’t accept the election results (“this is scary stuff,” the author said).
As dawn broke on November 9, the nation was in a state of shock. Trump’s win defied nearly all the polls. With a few notable exceptions (cough*Bill Mitchell*cough), even Trump fans were taken aback, albeit delighted.
The left was, nearly en masse, thrown into a state of inconsolable grief. Now this is where I can empathize, up to a point, with all sincerity. Back in 2012, I was confident of a Romney win. I had even decorated the living room for the big event, with banners, flags, and balloons in red, white and blue. When he was defeated, I was crushed. No, I was devastated. I wept. My 10-year-old daughter took note of this and made a giant frowny face out of the balloons. This broke the tension, as the whole family began laughing so hard our sides hurt.
I was sad, and even a bit bitter. That loss stung. But, like most of my fellow Republicans at that time, I got over it and moved on. I didn’t expect my liberal friends and family members to console me, or to try to understand my feelings. I didn’t ask them to empathize – the very thought of that seems outrageous to me. It was a presidential election, not a national disaster.
Fast forward to the past week and a half, and the behavior of, if not all, a whole lot of the left is unconscionable. Riots raging in several U.S. cities, Trump supporters physically attacked, fake hate crimes, and celebrities acting like complete idiots (well, that’s not anything new).
The hysteria is outrageous and completely out of bounds. As Jay Caruso of RedState said in a piece about this national overreaction:
“People, get the hell over yourselves. This was a presidential election. We have them every four years. If the system we have in this country can withstand a civil war, it can certainly handle Donald J. Trump.”
As if all of this weeping and gnashing of teeth weren’t galling enough, they want empathy.
Inspired by a campaign following the Brexit vote across the ocean, liberals began donning safety pins on their clothing (an outgrowth of “safe space,” get it?), and on their social media accounts, to signal empathy for those seen as “marginalized” in the wake of the election outcome. (The speculation that it may have been sparked from a 4chan prank takes this to epic levels of hilarity.)
All across the nation, retailers and universities are setting up safe spaces for traumatized souls to heal and grieve. There is a lot of shaming and scolding going around for those unwilling to get on board this particular empathy train.
There is a problem with this that goes well beyond feeling stunned by the lunacy: human beings do not have an endless well of empathy with which we can dip from whenever it is demanded. In fact, overworking the empathy center in the brain is harmful, not just to ourselves, but to our loved ones.
People who work in the medical field, first responders, social workers and those who work tirelessly for charities or nonprofits know this all too well; there is even a name for it: compassion fatigue. Having to keep the empathy switch turned in the “on” position for extended periods of time inevitably leads to burnout – both physical and mental. Simply put: we aren’t supposed to put ourselves in others’ shoes on a constant basis.
I can’t help but think that when universities coddle their young adult students, placating their “election trauma” with Play-Doh, cookies, and crayons, they are creating a black hole of selfish neediness that sucks the life out of everyone within a one-mile radius of their safe spaces. (Only the spaces aren’t truly safe, because if you don’t empathize appropriately, or how they deem suitable, you’ll be shamed and shunned.)
I’ve been seeing far too many pleas on social media for people to “try to understand” where the tantrum-throwers are coming from. There is a price to pay for empathizing too much, and I’m not willing to fork it over. Before you add that safety pin emoji to your Twitter handle in “solidarity” with the whining masses, maybe consider whether your limited currency of empathy is worth spending on people who wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.
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