Is it possible to have too much empathy? I’m sure it must hamper people in roles where you cannot please everyone. These roles are normally those in leadership. Sorry to keep banging on about her, but Mo Mowlam had to make difficult choices when she had to choose the importance of the N. Ireland peace process over honouring the wishes of of victims of terror. There had been atrocities on both sides, but, in order to negotiate de-comissioning she had to agree to the release from prison of so called ‘freedom fighters’. Paramilitaries who had harmed and masscared people for the sake of what they believed in. It was very hard for her to justify to the victims of those families why their loved ones killers were being freed. Of course it upset her to see their pain but she had to believe in the bigger picture. To move forward they could not wallow in the past – they had to forgive and move on. Too much empathy would have overcome this decision – what decision is right?
A new work colleague started this week. She has taken on a big role with lots of pressure and responsibility. It didn’t take long for us to discover common ground and in discussing where our paths may have crossed in the past a painful memory arose in her mind. She explained that her Mum had died a few months ago and she started to well up in tears. She was looking at the clock as she tried to pull herself together as she had two back-to-back meetings with VIPs. Seeing her grief, still so raw, instantly brought tears to my eyes as she recalled how her Mother had cried all the way back home after dropping her off at university on her first day.
Later I thought about the idea of losing my mother and I instantly felt a pang of loss deep loss at the thought of it. I was opening a door at the time and i thought “imagine opening this door without the person you love most in the world?” I know its a weird thing to say – something so trivial as opening a door but the person you form an attachment and deep and lasting bond is crucial to everday perspective. Take that away and your lost. That is why its so tragic for children who don’t get the chance to form that bond in the first place. Life is intolerable for them and it takes an amazing strength of character to pursue a life without the support of someone who gives unconditional love and support.
I felt bad that my empathy led to her opening up emotions that she was trying to keep a lid on , particularly before an important meeting. That’s the hardest thing – life stops for you but no-one else – I think WH Auden’s poem sums up the feelings of most people grieving – perhaps the last of the verse in particular:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good
Sorry for the sombre mood….:(
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Thanks for reading.