3 min read


I'm the kid and the glowing bit is emotions, in case it wasn't clear. All credit to Universal Pictures.

I travelled to Sydney for another Team Get Together this week, so as is tradition, this is a bit of a filler post, just to maintain momentum. That doesn't mean it doesn't say useful or interesting things, I just didn't put quite as much thought into it as I usually do.

Stream of consciousness hooooooo!

If you've worked with me or gleaned even a vague sense of me from this blog, you might get the sense that I'm a pretty empathetic person. Sometimes people tell me that anyway, saying that I have a tendency to consider others when making decisions or organising actions.

Logically I'd agree. I like to consider the mental and emotional state of others in whatever I do, but especially in my role as a manager. Being responsible for people is not an opportunity to exploit or abuse them in order to achieve your own selfish goals. That just makes you a terrible person, and I'd prefer not to be a terrible person.

I'd like to add to the general pleasantness of the world, not detract from it.

But I think that's more about being considerate than it is about being empathetic from my point of view.

I don't think I'm very empathetic.

The definition of empathy is:

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

To me, there are two obvious parts to that.

The first part is understanding. The ability to logically comprehend what another person is feeling and perhaps even go so far as to understand why they are feeling that way.

The second part is sharing. The ability to feel the same feelings as the other person. Perhaps not to the same degree, but generally in the same ballpark.

Long story short, I'm pretty good at the first part and horrible at the second.

I like to understand things, so my first response to almost any sort of situation is to ask questions to build that understanding. To seek clarity. In certain situations, this is a dangerous game to play, as people in heightened states of emotion often don't want to answer probing questions.

But it's better than not trying to understand at all I suppose.

I suspect there are people who don't actually have to understand the feelings of another in order to share in them. They see someone sad and automatically become sad. They see someone happy and become happy. Like a contact high.

That is not the way it works for me.

At least not for people anyway.

Animals are a completely different story. That's a sort of empathy that comes naturally to me. See a sad dog, feel sad. See a happy dog, feel happy.

Anyway, back to the point, despite all my effort in seeking to understand, I generally don't feel. So, initially I think people see that consideration and assume it's empathy, until they get a glimpse under the hood and realise that there isn't any echoing emotion there.

Which is probably pretty off-putting.

Maybe I am actually dead inside?

Well, probably not, but I've spent a good chunk of my life suppressing my own emotions in an entirely unhealthy way and I still haven't managed to fix that particular problem. Which is what it is, a problem, and I recognise it as such.

It's just a really hard problem to solve, because you can't just logically work your way through it.

You have to feel your way through it.

Sometimes in fantasy novels you read about people learning how to connect to magic of some sort. The One Power in the Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan is a good analogy here.

Using the One Power to perform acts of magic requires that you approach it in a very specific way. For men, it's about controlling. For women, it's about submitting.

Pretty stereotypical and sexist I know, but I think as an analogy it is interesting, because trying to actually feel emotions for me is a lot like trying to connect with some great magical force that has specific rules of engagement that I can't quite wrap my head around.

The times I manage to do it are overwhelming and exhausting, but I feel amazing afterwards. Like a great weight has been lifted. Then, I can't remember how I did it and trying to do it again just frustrates and confuses me.

I've talked to psychologists on and off about it, and my interest in fixing the problem waxes and wanes with time.

Bringing it all back to my point, I don't think that I'm empathetic, I think I'm considerate. I also think that the lack of empathy has a deleterious effect on my relationships with the people that I'm responsible for, especially those that are struggling in some way.

And I don't know what to do about it, because all of my problem-solving skills revolve around using my brain.

Not my heart.