One of the dictionary.com definitions of empathy is:
the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
I am struggling to come up with an example of that from my experience. I can think of examples that seem tangentially related to this but don’t seem to be quite the same.
I understand that what a person sees in an image is at least as much about the viewer as the image itself. I believe that is part of the theory behind Rorschach testing. But naming an image doesn’t necessarily ascribe feelings or attitudes to it. Is this empathy as defined above? I don’t think so.
Picasso’s Guernica is an image that always affects me on an emotional level. Since I don’t actually know what PP was thinking so I suppose I could be ascribing my own horror of war to the image but I am confident this was part of his message. Is it ’empathy’ that I am open to being affected by it? I don’t think the feelings and attitudes I experience are ascribed by me. I think the artist expressed them.
Another image I always find haunting is Hopper’s Nighthawks. There is a loneliness in this image that is palpable. That seems to come closer to the definition above but it still fails for me. If the artist meant to convey a feeling and succeeds then I don’t think it is accurate to say the emotion was ascribed by the viewer.
Many years ago I sought the services of a psychiatrist. Early in our relationship she asked me to bring in a photo of myself as a child. Seeing the photo, she observed that there seemed to be some sadness in my eyes in the picture and wondered if I recalled what that might have been about. Much later in the process I asked her about that exercise and she explained that she could just as easily ascribed some other emotion to the picture. The goal was to provoke talk about emotions. (Manipulative but effective.) That experience seems still closer to the definition above than the other examples but the emotions ascribed weren’t my own….or even necessarily her’s.
I recently posted a photo of my mother as a child. I have always thought that picture had a lot of emotional content (making it a good portrait) but I know the emotions it evokes in me are not necessarily the ones she was feeling. Maybe that is the closest of these examples but it still seems removed somehow.
Additional consideration is called for.
“We told her that people who thought that way were wrong to think that way. Sometimes hateful, usually stupid, but always, ALWAYS wrong.” …….Katherine Hepburn’s character in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” explaining how they educated their daughter about prejudice.
I’ve thought of those words often while reading about the controversy surrounding a certain chain of fast-food chicken restaurants and their support for homophobic hate groups.
Some right-wing talking heads are crying ‘foul’ alleging the chicken executive’s freedom of speech is being attacked. I have not heard anyone trying to suppress or censor Mr. Cathy’s right to spew any hate-filled message of intolerance that amuses him. I even have a grudging respect for his “guilty as charged” response to the criticism. Often one hears thoughts like his filtered though a sheet-with-eye-holes or from an anonymous screen name on a Tea Party blog. He earns points in my book for letting us see one of the faces of bigotry.
However, to use an economic maxim that should hit home for the chicken king; “there is no free lunch’. Political actions, including speech, have consequences. The fact that he seeks to wrap himself in the shroud of religion does not exempt him. He has the right to spew hatred to anyone who’ll listen. People who disagree with his ‘religion = hate’ message have the right to do so. They also have the right to buy chicken elsewhere and suggest that other like-minded people make a similar choice. The evangelical right has boycotted and called for boycotts against supporters of diversity for years. They set the precedent. It is too late to call foul. Accountability is not censorship.
It has heartened me to see support from a number of public officials such as Mayor Menino of Boston. It is not easy in this economy for a public official to take a stand against anyone offering employment in their jurisdictions. These courageous people should be complimented for their leadership in standing up for what is right.
It is important, however, that these efforts be seen as political and moral leadership and NOT government action. In this case, I agree with Mayor Bloomberg of NYC that it is not the role of government to regulate legal business activities based on these kinds of criteria. While I wholehearted support the spirit that would keep this kind of business off the Freedom Trail, we must not give this authority to local government.
My interests here are self-serving. I live in a “red” state. Some of our public officials seem unable, at times, to form coherent sentences. But they know how to open & close their mouths while the Tea Party/Evangelical/NRA ventriloquist standing behind them tries not to let the camera catch their lips moving. I do not want these officials making permit and zoning decisions based on their views on diversity being at odds with the applicant’s. We will lose more often than we win.
I confess I am more than slightly neurotic about privacy especially as it relates to the internet. It was years before ‘Harper’s Other Dad was able top drag me, kicking and screaming, to Facebook. Still one must embrace change. I suppose if I were too worried privacy I wouldn’t be blogging,….. or on Facebook, …. or using email, or surfing the web….. or…… or…..
I am reading a wonderful novel by Margaret Atwood called “The Blind Assassin”. Ms. Atwood is a skilled writer and often captures my imagination with small turns of phrase. Today’s mental excursion was prompted by:
“She made me a cup of chamomile tea, which tasted the way spoiled lettuce smelled….” This description is both amusing and accurate.
I live with and among tea drinkers. It is because of this passive exposure to tea culture that I know that chamomile tea is not tea at all but an herbal concoction. I am accepted into the society of tea drinkers because, while not a true believer, I am at least not a coffee drinker.
I drink iced tea on occasion. Having been raised in a family with southern roots, I knew the truth in the quotation from “Steel Magnolias” that iced tea is “The house wine of the South”. There was always a pitcher in the refrigerator when I was growing up. And it was always sweetened.
I will drink a cup of hot tea once in a blue moon if I am out for breakfast and there are no other options readily available. In our home we have a variety of teas; bagged and loose; black, white, green, and oolong. They originate in far away places like Japan, China, India, and Bolivia. These all have very specific instructions regarding water temperatures and steeping times. All this seems a little ‘fussy’ to me. Apparently adding three bags of Lipton Orange Pekoe to a sauce pan and bringing it to a full boil before combining it with sugar and cold water in the Tupperware pitcher that is already in the refrigerator is not the prefered method. Who knew?
I take comfort in knowing that I am not sitting in the drive-through line at Starbucks in a Hummer or Suburban (because that is what coffee drinkers drive) with the engine idling waiting to spend $5 or more for a cup of something coffee-ish. My morning caffeine of choice is Diet Coke. “Tis mother’s milk to me!” I confess I sometimes (OK, often) pull through the drive-through at a major, national fast-food chain (think golden arches) to buy one. But it only costs $1, the line moves faster, and my fellow soft drink buyers drive earth-friendly small cars and hybrids; just as God intended.
There is one negative association with tea that has developed in recent years with which I struggle. There is a loosely aligned group of politically active individuals (let’s call them “Nutbags”) who associate themselves with each other through a vague philosophical movement they refer to as “The Tea Party”. They have nothing to do with tea. Listening to their views is no party. Worse still, they have put me off the idea of tea parties. I guess that is fair in a way. They probably don’t feel comfortable describing their last little get-together (think klan rally) as ‘a gay old time’. I can live with that.
Recently I’ve been reviewing a large cache of photographs. Some are digital and therefore fairly recent. Others are prints; some quite old. Going through old photographs is interesting. Not only because of the memories and associations they evoke but also because of the resulting tangents I find myself pursuing.
The pictures include a number of images of butterflies. I took these at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. I photographed the butterflies because they are beautiful compositions of color but I know nothing about them. I have no background in science, natural or otherwise. So, I thought it would be interesting to try to identify the butterflies. Luckily, the internet is a wonderful thing and, with a little digging, one can find out quite a lot on almost any subject. Even more luckily, I have a friend who is an authority on all things lepidopterological. I did not want to ask him to identify them for me. Where’s the fun in that? But I knew he would happily tell me whether I was right or wrong in my identifications. Here are the results so far:
Dryas iulia or Julia Heliconian
Papilio cresphontes or Giant Swallowtail
Dryadula Phaetusa or Orange Tiger
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory is a terrific place to visit while in Key West. Please check them out at: http://www.keywestbutterfly.com/
This photograph fascinates me. Taken in 1936, it is a studio portrait of my mother, age 8, and one of her brothers, age 12. Like all old photos it evokes a far-away time and place.
My grandparents were both from families that were poor before the Depression so 1936 must have been a tough time for them. Yet, they paid for a studio portrait sitting. I wonder what made that a priority for them at that time. I notice the absence of my mother’s oldest brother from the photo, He would have been 17 at the time; not yet off to the war and so probably still living at home. I wonder why he is out of the picture.
The subjects are children who knew nothing of the paths their lives would follow. With the benefit of hindsight, as well as personal & collective memory, I know a good deal about the arc of their lives but it would be years before this would begin to be reflected in their eyes and expressions. And yet there is something enigmatic in their faces. Is Paul’s expression confrontational? Or am I projecting into his young eyes the characteristics of the man he would become? Is Shannon’s expression mature and a little amused? She was all of 8 at the time.
More than anything I would describe their expressions as ‘knowing’. Perhaps there was some drama about the missing brother. Perhaps they only knew they were tired of sitting for this photographer in their ‘Sunday-go-to-meeting’ clothes.
If any children’s theater groups wants to do a production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ or ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ I think this would be a terrific publicity photo.
I’ve often considered attempting to write a blog. ‘Attempting’ because at this moment I can think of many reasons why this is a foolish idea (“The Cons”) and only a handful of reasons why I should invest the effort (The Pros).
In the spirit of optimism, let’s consider the latter first.
I know a number of bloggers. They seem to enjoy it. They have encountered a number of interesting people and have made some good, albeit, in most cases, ‘virtual’ friends. The opportunity to share this experience is attractive and I would hope for a similar social outcome.
It will afford me an opportunity to engage both my left and right brain functions. Much of the technology will be an opportunity to learn and grow so the left side will be fully engaged. At the same time, the writing will engage the right side more fully than the events of my daily life do. I do not think of myself as particularly creative but I am passionate about the things I care about and look forward the challenge of expressing my thoughts and feelings in a way that will be clear, if not necessarily meaningful, to you; the reader.
I don’t have a specific agenda. I care about politics but am not an activist. I care about the arts but don’t think of myself as uniquely qualified to hold forth on this topic beyond my own likes and dislikes. There is no particular topic on which I consider myself an authoritative source of knowledge or wisdom.
What makes me think I have anything meaningful to say to the world at large? The idea seems fraught with hubris. What if the entire blogosphere gets together and unanimously decides I am an idiot? There is an old saying that it is better to remain silent and let others think you’re stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Blogging confronts that risk head-on and with a permanence that only exists on the internet.
There are many more thoughts along these same lines but by now you’ve gotten the drift.
So, with all that said, with the known and unknown positioning themselves directly in my path, and with all my neuroses and insecurities in high gear and on full display…… let’s begin.