I went to a book club on Tuesday night. It’s kind of an unconventional book club, because instead of all reading the same book over the course of a month or some other predetermined span of time, people just bring poems to read, or read short passages from a book, as a jumping off point and then just let conversation spring organically from there. The conversation touched on everything from beer to cats to 4chan, but the brief while that we discussed empathy versus disdain was really fascinating.
Someone read from C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and that brought the topic to empathy, and how the lack of it is one of the great flaws of our generation. From there, someone brought up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and the Love Lab, where couple are taped having conversations and then the footage is broken down frame by frame to analyze responses at the micro level. Apparently, once this footage has been analyzed, the scientists are able to predict with startling accuracy which couples will stay together and which will break up, and the one response that translated as the kiss of death for a relationship was disdain.
Disdain. n. the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect.
I feel so often that we’re conditioned to think that conflict is an ultimate bad, and that conflict constitutes a bad relationship. When in reality (science has proven it!), conflict in the context of a relationship is actually healthy. Healthy because it keeps emotions from getting bottled up, which is a breeding ground for disdain. And because, no matter if you raise your voices and get angry, it shows that you care enough about the other person and about your relationship to get emotional instead of just not caring.
This has so often been the bane of my existence because I’m a very emotional person, and, especially in relationships, this intense emotion in me is often perceived by my significant other as intense unhappiness. No matter how many arguments I’ve had or tears I’ve shed, I’ve never felt disdain for the person I’m with, never gotten to the point of not caring. Based on the findings of the Love Lab, it appears that my outpourings of emotion are a sign of caring a lot. Maybe too much.
In theory, I think it’s a good thing to be emotional because it’s an outward sign of inward regard. But because my emotionality is so often misunderstood as discontentment, it just seems it would be easier sometimes to be able to turn my emotions off, or even just down a couple notches, so as to fit into the societal construct of “romantic happiness.” So as to be in control of my performance, and to tailor it to the audience’s expectations: accord, harmony, sans crying and all the other typical markers of unhappiness. (Nevermind the fact that I cry the least when I’m unhappy in comparison with other more positive emotions.)
But that’s neither possible nor practical. I can no more change my emotionality than I can change my DNA: it is part of my biology. So I suppose that means I’m simply destined to be broken-hearted by men who leave me to spare me unhappiness where there is already none, and to be penalized for caring enough to be confrontational. Oh, great.