Empathy once more

Credit TV2
Credit TV2

I’m still working on this empathy thing. As I am going to turn 50 next month, I figure it is about time I get some kind of handle on what empathy is. Perhaps something clicked inside my head these last couple of days.

Norway is something of a cross-country skiing interested nation. Sports aren’t my thing to watch, but my husband likes it. I managed to catch the last minutes of the winner, Marit Bjørgen’s, race along with her interview afterwards. This is when the click happened. If you take a look at the link to her interview, you will see that Marit is all teary-eyed about this victory. No wonder. This woman has worked intensely for years and finally she won Tour de Ski. Plus she is tired after the run. So, of course, she is going to get emotional about it. But she wasn’t the only one.

My husband also got a bit teary-eyed and so did the commentator and other television crew. Because my husband got teary-eyed, I’m just going to assume that other Norwegians watching the race also got teary-eyed. I did not. But something in me wondered if this mass phenomenon was a part of empathy as non-autistics think of it.

Credit: Momtastic
Credit: Momtastic

On facebook people place a lot of clips where they tell me (and others) that there will be need for a handkerchief. Somehow, I have never needed one. But others may have. I am wondering if this is also part of the empathy phenomenon – this getting weepy while watching something about helping others.

I remember telling a group of people about the abuse I had experienced as a child. Some of the people in the group were even angrier about the abuse than I have ever been. To me that seemed really uncomfortable at the time and somehow fake because the abuse had not happened to them or another person that they cared about. They were angry because it had happened to me as a child and it was for that child that they were angry. I’m still confused about the logic while writing this. But maybe this also has something to do with empathy.

Here is another definition of empathy:

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. (Dictionary.com)

What I am wondering is if it is possible to have empathy across neurological differences, such as AS and non-AS people. Because I’m not seeing it.

Credit: Cuteness and consequences
Credit: Cuteness and consequences

I’ve read blogs and postings by non-AS parents with AS children and blogs and postings by other combinations of AS and non-AS groups. What I have seen is a willingness to try to understand the workings of the other party’s brain but an inability to actually vicariously experience what the other person is feeling or thinking. Somehow it seems that crossing the line between AS and non-AS only brings confusion and a sense of the other being illogical and unfathomable. Add to that whatever conditions either party may or may not have in addition to their AS/non-AS and understanding becomes even more difficult.

One thing almost 50 years has given me is the realization that empathy is not a requirement for acceptance. Accepting other people for who and what they are without constantly wanting to change them into something else is something we can all strive for whether or not empathy is part of our neurological make-up or not.


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