Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lay down your burdens

The Slacktivist has this to say on the subject of pity:

Pity gets a bad rap. It's considered acceptable to feel pity for those who are fully aware that their plight is pitiable -- victims, say, of earthquakes or tsunamis. But to feel or show pity for those not fully aware of their plight -- particularly of those who would vehemently deny that they are, like the rest of us, deserving of pity -- is somehow regarded as unforgivably arrogant and condescending.

"Undo the thongs of the yoke to let the oppressed go free." How patronizing! Who are you to tell someone else they're oppressed. "Let the one who has two tunics share with the one who has none." How condescending! Keep your tunic to yourself, you stuck-up, less-shivering-than-thou jerk.

If we are to love one another as we love ourselves, then pity is unavoidable. To reject pity as arrogant and condescending can only lead to somewhere cruel, callous and monstrous. Somewhere, obviously, pitiless.

Pity, at least the sort the slacktivist describes, is rarely the friend of those in favor of sexual freedom. The pity for the compulsive evangelical, burdened by the duty to witness to the faith no matter how awkward they make social situations, is of a piece with the pity for the homosexual, burdened by his or her nature to never know the joys of parenthood, the pity for the polyamorous, doomed to exploitative and unloving relationships, and the pity for the masochist, who could not in his or her right mind truly enjoy what is happening. What they all share in common is the refusal to take the experience of the pitied seriously. Empathy untempered by humility is worse than useless. If we are to love one another as we love ourselves, we must also accept that others might have different values than we do. We must acknowledge that our judgment of others' circumstances may be wrong. And we must have the love to shelve our pride and accept the testimony of others about themselves over our judgments about them.

In short, imposed pity is never loving. Pity for those who do not consider their plight pitiful is considered condescending and arrogant because it is condescending and arrogant. I share Mr. Clark's revulsion of those who consider all pity an evil, but we oughtn't group imposed pity together with empathy. The one seeks an honest connection with another human being, accepting their personhood in commiserating with their plight. The other objectifies the pitied by replacing their experience with the judgment of the pitier.

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