Looking for Empathy

Dear Wombat,

I hope you are feeling much better after your surgery and you and your best bud will be able to answer my question!

I am very sad. My dear Tuffy Cat, who is 15 years old, is very, very sick. I have to take him to the vet on Monday but he won’t be coming home alive.

Some of my friends are telling me, “it’s just a cat! You have 2 other cats! Why are you so sad?”

But Tuffy Cat is a loving, sweet, gentleman kitty, and has been my close baby kitty for all these years. He loves me best, and I love him, and I will so much miss him when he’s not sitting on my lap or helping me on my computer, or telling me to give him treats in the morning when I’m lying in bed. When I was so sick just a while ago and had to stay in bed all the time, he was right there with me keeping me company.

How do I explain to my friends that I am very sad, and will be even sadder on Monday, and for a long time after that? Heck, I am still sad about the first kitty ever who I loved when I was 8 years old….and Tuffy dying will make me really sad all over again. My friends telling me this don’t have a Wombat or Dingbat or a Tuffy in their lives. I’m sad for them, too…..

Thank you. And I hope you get all better soon.

–Very Sad

Wow. That is very, very sad. I love kitties. Unfortunately, kitties don’t seem to feel the same way about me. Unless maybe they enjoy chase games? Chase games with kitties is like my most favoritest thing in the whole world.

I’m not sure this is helping. Tuffy sounds like a very special kitty, and a very good friend. Those people who don’t understand that—maybe not such good friends. Sometimes humans are not very good at seeing beyond themselves.

They need glasses? Sometimes The Human is not good at seeing beyond her nose to the computer screen.

No, I mean that they don’t pay attention to the fact that other people’s experience is different than their own. Sad really loves her kitties. Personally, I think dogs are much better companions, but, you know, Sad probably sees it differently. And the mature thing for me to do would be to exercise some empathy.

Wait, is an empathy a thing that likes exercise? Does it play chase games? I like exercise in the form of chase games.

You’re a dingbat, Dingbat. Empathy is when you use your imagination to understand how another person is feeling, and then respond to their feelings, rather than how you would feel in their place.

Oh. Right. Like maybe if The Human said “Ew, liver is disgusting!” you could say “I bet you don’t want to smell that for one more second. I will gobble it up for you.”

Um. Sure. But in Sad’s case it’s a little more serious.

I am very serious about liver.

She needs her friends to understand that she is sad in the way that you are sad when you lose a family member—which is what Tuffy is. If they don’t have pets as family they would need some empathy to understand how she feels and respond appropriately.

So what can Sad do to get her friends to be more empathetic?

Well, she might give details that help them understand. Maybe instead of saying “Tuffy is coming to the end of his time,” she could tell them “I’m really struggling because I’m losing my dear companion Tuffy, who has literally been at my side through my toughest times.”

Would that make them imagine her feelings?

It might. But one problem is that humans feel awkward around other people’s sadness, and they think they should make it go away.

That’s silly. Feeling sad isn’t something that you can chase off like a cat. Oops. Sorry Tuffy.

Yeah, not the most empathetic metaphor there. But you understand. Thinking you can chase away someone’s sadness by pretending it’s not so bad just doesn’t work. But people try it anyway, because it makes them uncomfortable just being next to the sadness.

Maybe humans should imagine sadness as a dog or cat that sits next to you on the couch or the bed. It has a right to be there, and it will get up and move when it’s ready. Which might not be for a while.

Yeah, but it’s hard for people, because sadness is not cute and furry.

So what should Sad do?

Well, she could start by talking about her loss to friends who DO have cats or dogs who are family members, since it will be easier for them to understand. And she could think about who are friends who mostly understand how to empathize, and reach out to them. And, if she feels up to it, when someone says “Why are you so upset? It’s just a cat.” she could maybe say, “He was very precious to me, and I am hoping that my friends can recognize that and support me.”

But she’s still going to feel sad, right?

Yeah. No way to get around that, I’m afraid. It’s part of the Human Condition.

Well, I’m glad it’s not a Dog Condition. But, um…Wombat…

What?

I’m glad that the surgery thing they did to you is going to fix the whatevers. I don’t really do sad, but it is possible that me and The Human were maybe a little bit worried.

Love you too, Dingbat.

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4 thoughts on “Looking for Empathy

  1. Having fur family is the best. Nowhere else do we get unconditional love like that. Although, I have been working on giving it to myself.

    Much love to Sad.

    Good advice from W and D!

    1. Thank you, Barbara. We certainly agree the world needs fixing. However, to do our particular job we need people to send us questions with their issues so that we know what to fix. Please send us a question!

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