I talked a little bit about empathy in my last post, and I've been thinking about it as a concept. (Incidentially, does anyone remember history GCSE, where you had to write essays that showed "empathy" with someone's situation? For example, I remember writing a long sob story about an Irish family emigrating to America during the potato famine. There was also the person in our class who started an essay about a WWI soldier with the words "Wrote another poem today". Our teacher used this as an example of how not to do an empathy essay.)
Someone said to me that this whole experience I've been going through might make me a more empathetic person in the long run. And they could be right. But, at the moment, I feel like it's making me seriously less empathetic - at least, with some people.
For instance, when someone tells me they feel utterly shit with a cold, or that they had a bad night's sleep, I mutter sympathetically, but my inner devil is muttering: "So? What do they know about feeling utterly shit? One bad night's sleep? Pah! Try a whole six weeks."
When, as happened today, several friends cancel playdates I'd arranged for the boys, because they are feeling a bit under the weather or simply "have too much going on", my blood boils. For God's sake, I think. Today I feel like I can hardly stand up, but am still planning to take my kids to piano and swimming and was quite willing to meet up with people for pizza in order to entertain my chidren. Because, when every day is a crappy day, you simply have to carry on with life as best you can.
I do remember feeling a little the same when my mother died. When something that traumatic happens, one of your reactions is to feel a little bit less sympathetic to people's every day woes. So, for a period, I turned from a mild-mannered editor at work into someone whose patience wore very thin when I felt my underlings weren't trying their hardest. Somehow, something hardens inside you when these things happen. But then again, I probably became a better editor as a result.
I know it is all relative. Everyone's situations could be worse. There are plenty of people in the world far worse off than me, and then there are people who have a cold and wish they felt better. I have friends who are going through great trials (sick children, marriage breakups) and I would not even presume to know how bad they are feeling.
But, perhaps this post may explain why it may be no more Mrs. Nice Gal for the moment. Hopefully temporarily. Readers will have to be patient and forgive the odd rant.