because cool kids are boring

I cried at that

without comments

“it’s dusty in here”

“I got feels”

Has anyone else noticed a move among the freaks and geeks on the internet away from emotions? We seem to be increasingly using humor as misdirection when acknowledging emotions in a public space.

That isn’t quite right though. Joy and elation are celebrated. Anger and rage is acknowledged. It’s only the vulnerable emotions like sadness and depression that are dismissed with a stale joke. Not all of the time, but the frequency in which I see this happening seems to me to be growing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against using humor to discuss difficult things. And I have used the “dusty” joke myself even recently. And I can’t say I won’t use it again in the future. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just curious what this tendency says about us and what it may mean in the long run.

When I first noticed this trend and began to wonder about it’s source, the explanation that most strongly popped in my head is the kid who turns what they see as their negative traits into a joke as a self defense mechanism. The fat kid who cracks fat jokes for instance.

Have we hit a point where we are so scared of being trolled that we preemptively troll ourselves?

What effect is this having on us though? I have a longer piece bubbling in my head about the normalization of bullying in our society, so I’m not going to dive to deep into this, but there is one side of this that has me wondering.

These same emotions that we’re trying to distance ourselves from are the very emotions that allow us to empathize with other individuals. They allow us to build the connections in our brain that push us to help someone else when we see that they are in trouble. Not out of a sense of gain, but from a place of empathy and compassion. If we continue to distance ourselves from these emotions, will we also begin to distant ourselves from other people when they are in need?

I can now imagine folks reading the above paragraph and defiantly declaring that if they saw someone in “real” need that they would help.

Let’s roll play shall we?

Last week a post appeared on a blog I read that talked about how a local shelter for pregnant women had their boiler give up the ghost and was now in desperate need of donations to help pay for a new one. (FYI, I’m in the mid Atlantic where winter has finally decided to show up) When I saw the post I was at work, so I flagged it and came back to it that evening when I was able to do something. As I read through the comments that night I saw a few that lamented not having cash to give and wished the shelter best. Most of the comments though were concerned with the fact that the shelter was openly pro-life and the debate about whether the shelter was worthy of the donations because of that.

So here’s the multiple choice question.

What do you do (for the point of this exercise let’s assume you have money to donate)?
A) Give what you can, regardless of politics?
B) Would have given money, until you saw their politics?
C) Ignored the plea?

Six months ago, I’m pretty sure I would have gone with C. I’m not sure I’d have even made it through the first paragraph of the post.

Now though, I gave regardless of politics. I acknowledge that there may be deeper political implications to the situation, but I saw no reason to assume the plea was a hoax, and cold women and children trumped politics for me at that moment.

The difference between the two reactions is my recent decision to allow myself to be more emotional, especially when it comes to more vulnerable emotions. It is obvious to me based on my reaction to the post and the thought process that lead to my donation, that my decision to do this has left me feeling more empathetic towards other people and so not just more willing to give, but having almost a compulsion to help people when I see them in need. If you’ve read my previous post, it’s obvious that there is more to this then a simple a + b = c equation. This is more the person that I was before I shut down and is a result of my decision to start the healing process.

I can’t help wonder though how much of this is unique to me and how much of this is more universal? Is there a correlation between an individual’s honesty and openness when approaching their own emotions and the degree to which they are empathically able to connect with other people?

I am not trying to cast judgement here (either passively or aggressively). Nor am I trying to tell people what they should do in these situations. I find myself wondering about these questions though. Are we distancing ourselves from each other by trivializing emotions which are at the center of our ability to empathize with other people? And if we are, what is the outcome of these actions? Is this just a temporary reaction to the overwhelming pain and grief that arise during difficult times like we’re in now? Or is this another step in the larger movement towards ever greater individuality? And if the later, will the pendulum ever swing in the other direction?

Written by Matt

February 18th, 2013 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized