When is sympathy not enough? At what point do we decide that a person’s attempt at caring about our struggles is deficient, and we want only the camaraderie of those who can empathize?
I have a group of well connected friends who have interactions with each other across several different mediums – often at the same time. One of our main group-correspondence mediums is an app called GroupMe. For those not familiar, it’s a group messaging application that allows you to create and participate in several different group chats at once. For instance, my group of friends has a couple on gaming, one on technology, one to plan get togethers, one for the mothers in the group to post baby pictures, a general chatting group, and so on and so forth.
This is one of the best social applications I’ve encountered. It leads to a lot of fun conversation as well as an ease of getting a hold of one or more of my friends at a time with typically near to instant response.
The one thing I didn’t fully realize, is that it also fosters the ability to exclude.
I, from time to time, feel on the outside of this group of friends. I have no reason to be; everyone has been very welcoming and friendly and folded me in to their sense of family over the past 3.5 years. However, I still feel a sense of the fact that I will never truly be “one of them”. There are times when I see social media pictures of a group of them out to dinner, and I wonder why I was not invited. There are times where they are hanging out at each other’s home and I wonder the same thing. Understandably a lot of times these things are spontaneous, and not a planned “invite-the-whole-crew-to-get-together” type of thing – I still feel excluded. Sometimes I’m jealous when one tells me they are going out to lunch (or something else) with another, and I wonder “why don’t we ever hang out?”
I’ve had the pleasure of calling several people “friend” in my lifetime, but by in large have been left feeling like I sit down at the end of a one way street. Few and far in between have been the friends who call me just to say hi and chat, who call and ask me to come hang out with them, or who call me because they want to be in my company and do things with me specifically. The majority of friendships I hold are those that if I do not put forth the request to hang out or the phone call to chat, we would rarely converse or spend time with each other. Ironically, this has led me to be reclusive and no longer put forth the same effort that I complain of others not showing to me. #Hypocrite
At any rate, I digress, let me get back to the point.
A couple of weeks ago 3 of my friends and I were at this great new (to me) Gyro place downtown for dinner. We were chit chatting and laughing while we all had our phones in our faces (as we often do). One of my friends opened up one of the groups in GroupMe, laughed, and repeated something someone had said. It turns out it was a group that I was not a part of; “Newsworthy Rants” or “Rant worthy News”, something like that. Being a bit insecure about feeling like an outsider and not being included, I was immediately a bit stung; not understanding why I wouldn’t have been invited to this particular group.
I don’t recall the comment I made about being excluded, but my friend replied, “Do you want me to add you?” Feeling snide and petty in my stung feelings I childishly replied “No, I don’t want to be a part of a group that I obviously wasn’t wanted in, in the first place”. My friend gave me a patient look and replied “(Mutual friend’s name here) created this group after the Philando Castile thing and invited us.” As she says us, she indicates herself and the 2 other friends we’re sitting with. I reply “Yeah, I realize that. Obviously I was not wanted in the group, I get it.” The saint that she is, my friend again indicates her and my 2 other friends and says “… no, you see, she invited the 3 of US.”
It dawned on me what she was trying to say: Philando Castile is black. She and my 2 other friends are black. I am not black.
“Oh…..” I replied, immediately moving from stung to hurt. My friend, probably seeing the look on my face, soothed “She probably didn’t want you to be offended by what might be said in the group.” I didn’t reply, and looked out the window trying to hide the mental struggle I was having with the initial emotional reaction I had to the realization of what she said.
At what point in our society do we gain progression into an elevated consciousness of acceptance by deciding that each other’s support is just not quite enough, and thus unwanted?
Our society perpetuates the notion that exclusion by some parties in society is “ok” while with others it’s not. This is often a touchy subject that circles around race relations in this country. Some have the notion that white people excluding black people is racist, but black people excluding white people is not. Some people have the notion that any type of exclusion is racist regardless of which ethnicity is perpetuating said exclusion.
I myself never give much thought to the matter. Off the top of my head: do I think the KKK is racist? Well, duh. Do I think the Black Panthers are racist? It depends. The majority of the Black Panther’s messages circle around Black empowerment and the oppression of the Black Community. Sometimes it gets distorted into racially focused violence and hate – only then does it become an issue of racism or bigotry.
At any rate, I digress again.
After I sulked for several minutes, trying to sort my emotional response so that I did not react inappropriately, I finally replied to my friend: “You know, assuming that I’d be offended by the outrage expressed in that group is almost more offensive than anything I could imagine y’all would be saying in there.” My friend paused for a minute, then replied, “Yeah, I can see that.” Whether she truly agreed or was humoring me, I’m not sure (nor is that really relevant).
This conversation and topic keeps coming back to my mind the past couple of weeks. I try to let it go because I sincerely do understand the need to – at times – be within the safety of a community comprised of people that you know will both understand and have experienced the same life issues that you have. The need to be in a space where you know that no matter what you say or how you vent your frustration, hurt, outrage, and/or anger – that not only do you have the safety of knowing you won’t offend anyone, but those receiving your message will be able to do more than sympathize: they will be able to empathize.
Which leads me to ask this question: When is sympathy not enough? At what point do we decide that a person’s attempt at caring about our struggles is deficient, and we want only the camaraderie of those who can empathize? What benefit can be held in our society by exercising forms of separation, even if the intentions were innocent or well meaning?
At what point in our society do we gain progression into an elevated consciousness of acceptance by deciding that each other’s support is just not quite enough, and thus unwanted? Would it be safe to say, that we all might have a better understanding of each other’s struggles, triumphs, worries, loves, cares, and goals… If we allowed each other the opportunity to learn them?
We all deserve to exercise the right of surrounding ourselves with people with whom we feel safe, cared for, and understood. However, it’s my hope that one day people will accept having the feeling of safety and caring be the only inherent requisite to their inclusion – and be willing to teach the latter.