You know how some people really excel at empathy? These are the people who always know what to write in sympathy cards, or maybe they bought the sympathy cards for everyone to sign. They have a kind word, a heartfelt note, or a sincere hug when you’re feeling down. They delight in your joys and grieve your losses. These are lovely people.
I am not one of them.
It’s not that I don’t feel for other people. I just have no idea what to do about it.
I can easily express a wide variety of emotions, including desire for ice cream, anticipation of ice cream, exultation while eating ice cream, and desolation at being out of ice cream. When it comes to the emotions of social interaction, though, I am far less capable. My attempts to express sympathy usually come out like this:
This particular mystical power has always escaped me. I recently came across a page in one of my binders from high school entitled “Compassion Notes.” It represented my sincere effort to demonstrate that I cared about people. Entries included “Ask Linda about her cats” and “Wendy [a friend prone to sports injuries] is limping—say something.”
These conversations did not unfold as I had expected.
So I abandoned Compassion Notes after about 36 hours and went back to my standard method of offering sweets and trying to be entertaining until everyone’s problems went away.