I’m going to guarantee you something. It doesn’t come with a warranty but I fully stand by it. Chronically ill people never want your pity. It’s like a hand-me-down emotion that’s ill-fitting, uncomfortable, offensive… in the way lycra was in the 80s. Seriously, it’s a material pretty much exclusively meant for cyclists and gymnasts, not recreational wear. But I digress. Pity is like the unwanted fluro green leotard of human responses. No one wants it and if they do then there’s no accounting for their proclivities.
Pity is a hierarchical perspective that is disempowering. It makes the pitied small and feeble. It’s a destination judgement with no embedded virtue. It makes a person, in all their complexity, one-dimensional. “Oh you poor thing. How bad your life must be. I feel so sorry for you.” There’s nowhere to go except some sad, desolate little island for unfortunate souls. But who gets through life unchallenged in some way?
In reality we all visit that island at some point, some of us just seem to spend longer sipping the sour coconuts. It makes no sense, we don’t seem to have a whole lot of control over it but pity is basically the jerk who sails by on a cruise ship and shouts through a megaphone: “Wow guys, I’ve got these fancy binoculars and I just noticed those coconuts look really old. That sucks. What you’re sucking, sucks. See ya, suckers.” Then sails on by. Ok, so people generally aren’t that cartoonishly flippant, but I’m taking some artistic license to illustrate my point: that pity is pointless.
That said, sometimes pity gets a bit kinky and likes to dress up as concern or even kindness. Do not be fooled guys. This is the emotional equivalent of the wolf dressed as granny. Pity is neither of these things and I’ll tell you exactly why. Both concern and kindness engage with a person as a whole being. There is an expression of interest, an investment of energy that creates a positive connection. Pity does not, can not, do this. Why? Because it is proximityphobic, a word I invented to show off my syllabic range but basically means it looks from afar. Sometimes pity approaches from above but it makes sure to never get too close. Pity has the veiled yet very present instinct that somehow, just somehow, misfortune may be contagious. We don’t like to get too tactile when we’re administering our pity.
And you know what? The pitied person feels this. If pity is expressed towards them (no closer than a few arm lengths away of course) it leaves a sickly sweet sort of rotten feeling in the throat. Perhaps the fermenting of an unexpressed reply “…I wouldn’t choose this …but…I’m more than this situation.” Words that are swallowed because pity is dressed up as an acceptable social nicety that we should not only accept but be grateful for. Well today I’d like to say “No.” Pity is pointless. Put it on a t-shirt. Tell it to your kids. It’s the cheap knock-off of concern and kindness. It only wishes it was empathy.
There is no such thing as well-intentioned pity, that’s an attempt to falsely appropriate the true concepts of concern and kindness. We often say that someone is self-pitying when we think they’re too stuck in their own troubles. When it’s one person removed and a third party it more obviously takes on it’s true form: ugly, unproductive, a terribly pathetic life sentence. Paradoxically it just takes some real concern or kindness to see that self-pity is in fact sadness or grief being buried beneath a harsh misnomer.
(Pity would tell you this is a rabbit. Don’t trust pity. It’s shallow and doesn’t know what it’s on about…)
In closing my case I would like to say: Pity is a dead end. It’s an unpaved, potholed, cul de sac in an abandoned, remote, uninviting town that you only came to through a glitch in your GPS. By actually feeling the full spectrum of emotions (it even has the word motion in it guys, this post is writing itself) we are then able to move forward and grow. At times it may look pretty bad from the outside but anyone worth your time will step closer if they care. None of us get to do life without things getting a bit messy from time to time (ok, sometimes a lot messy amiright?!) and that means we take a trip to murphy’s island (he got tired of legal practice and never winning any cases due to insanely high odds of bad luck and sought privacy on a remote island but wouldn’t you know it, all these other people started showing up…seemed despite going into retirement Murphy’s Law followed him) and it does suck. Cruise jerk is 100% right about that but that truth has to be separated from the toxic seeming expression of care that pity is.
Joy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger. It’s all emotion and that’s natural. That’s what makes us fabulously un-one-dimensional (syllables again, can’t help it) and real. So I’m gonna let a little 90s Mariah take this post out. If you know me and you’ve read any of this blog previously, you know I have a 90s music thang. So here it is, enjoy, and don’t foist your pity on others AND more importantly don’t allow anyone to foist the label of self-pitying upon you. Chuck that shit away like it’s a hot potato.
Here’s one more guarantee. You will get off that stinkin’ island…but not before carving your name in the coconut palm. Because overcoming misfortune makes you a bad mothertrucker and that shit deserves commemorating. I’m betting there’ll be some truly kind people who you meet there too and those who are excited to welcome you back. The ones who’ve been sending you letters in glass bottles that wash up on the shore, by carrier pigeon or sky-writing just to let you know they care. These people don’t pity you because they know that we’re all so much more than our circumstances. Fortune can be fickle but we can always choose to be kind.