Saturday, March 05, 2005

Today I'd like to try to speak about empathy. I got denied disability recently and in the letter it was stated that my claim was based on my assertion that I had had a bad disc and had surgery and it got better. Well, this was a piece of a fraction of what I had put in my application. This was when, 15 years ago, I had blown out a disc and had the pieces removed. For about a year I was relatively pain free. Then the pain began to return and now, 15 years later, I have two herniated discs, two compressed discs, severe arthritis and apparently either fibromyalgia or maybe a return of the shingles. Not really my call to make, the doctors haven't really decided why this pain down my left side and arm is so intense at times. But I was refused disability. I know eventually they will give it to me because in fact I cannot be retrained because I cannot remember things anymore, nor can I sit for more that a few minutes at a time and I hurt all the time. But I digress.
My thought was that some person reading my application and those of my doctors, came away with this tiny fraction of information, missing the doctor's reporting that there was no chance I could work again because it's a degenerative condition and that's what degenerative conditions do: they get worse. I was wondering why they didn't "get it" and I had this flash of a chimpanzee I saw in a PBS show. She had been caring for her child and the child died. She carried that dead piece of flesh around for a couple of days and then took it out into the jungle and came back sometime later a changed and angry chimp. I felt for that chimp as I don't feel for our President, who cheerfully orders the deaths of thousands of babies a day. That's called empathy, because I have held my son inmy arms, knowing that he is very slowly dying. The average life span of a person in his state is about 4-7 years, so he's on the downhill slide to death. The nurses with children, who have nursed them to health, relate to me and my pain better than one of my doctors who admittedly is concerned over the fact that he is leaving his practice to move to a northern lake town to "shoot snowmobilers". ha ha.
This doctor wrote in his last report on me that I was "an enigma" to him. He couldn't figure it out why, when the MRIs on me didn't really show that much pressure on the nerves, why I told him I hurt that much. He didn't understand, apparently, that everybody is different. Everybody has a different chemical mix inside them. I seem to have more of a substance that pain doctors call "substance P" (no kidding) which allows for the transmission of pain to the brain. He didn't test for this, nor has any doctor. It may be an expensive test that the insurance companies won't pay for, but anyway it would just tell them that I hurt all the time. Bottom line, he couldn't relate to my pain. He interrupted me when I tried to tell him how I felt. He started up his dictaphone in the middle of my saying goodbye to him, dismissing me without even a hand wave. He did not have an ounce of empathy with me.
I have a friend, really a friend of my sweety-pie's, who studies gnosis and such things and is trying very hard, as all good gnostics do, to eliminate all empathy and other human bindings from her psyche. I doubt she would see it this way, but I know a bit about gnostics and gnosism, and they want to leave this frame of mind and achieve enlightenment. So they say things like "Why do you think you have chosen to be sick?" Now this, on one level, is a very good question, because on one level we have chosen to be sick. We created this universe and sat down in it, specifically to feel sickness and pain and all those parts of an infinite existence. But on this level, the level below the clouds, we didn't choose a blown disc, a life of pain meds and limping. We just hurt and want it to stop. This very fine and hard working lady has never had a child and will never be likely to have one. So when we talk about my feelings about my son she tries very hard to understand what I am going through, but like that distracted doctor she just can't bring in empathy. She can't understand and so we don't connect. We agree silently to disagree.
In gestaltism a person tries the opposite of gnosism.INstead of trying to leave this body and these human frames and concerns, a gestaltic (?) tries to connect with others. They try to blend with others to form a new mind formed of all those people around them. The idea is that a body thus formed is greater than the sum of the parts. You quantum-up to a higher level, working your way towards the All. It's not a better technique than any other, just a different technique. you might say it's using empathy to achieve enlightenment.
My primary care doctor listens intently to what you say. He holds your hands and looks at your face and only when you are done speaking does he speak. He chooses to have empathy for his patients, whom I am sure he thinks of as friends. So he is pretty good at diagnosing my problems. He understands that I sometimes hurt where my son hurts before I even hear that my son has a new injury. He says he sees no reason why a parent would not be that close to a child. he says that doctors know very little of the "why" of the body, only a bit of "what". He gestalts rather than gnows.
There is an experiment wherein they attach electrodes to a chimp and let it do things, like picking up a peanut. They record the brain patterns of this effort. Then they have the chimp look at a peanut without being able to reach it and the same patterns occur in the brain, even though the arm is not moving. Then one day a doctor reached over and picked up the peanut and the chimp showed the same brain patterns as when the chimp was reaching out to take the peanut. He empathized with the doctor. He related to that white clothed arm with the pale hairless hands. He gestalted.
Maybe when we try to see if chimps and apes can speak or otherwise communicate, we are actually forming a gestalt with the beast, causing them (and us) to achieve more than we could before. Maybe both the researcher and the ape achieve a higher consciousness by empathizing with one another.
When we send out boys and girls to kill other boys and girls we try to turn them into killing machines. Lean, mean, killing machines is what the TI says and he means it. if they were boys and girls it would be harder to kill. We send out robotic planes to drop bombs, piloted by video game experts. They see the dots on the screen and zap them, getting higher marks and going to the next level, when their planes can carry nuclear bombs and zap entire cities. But the science of war has advanced to a point whereby we no longer try to push our boys and girls out into the killing fields armed with a stick or a sword to thrust that thing into the guts of another frightened boy or girl. It doesn't work as well as it used to. I think maybe it doesn't because we know more about those other boys and girls. We know about where on the globe they live. We know a bit about their religion, thier lifestyle. We might even have heard their prayers on a PBS special on religion. So we empathize with them. You can't kill a person with whom you fel connected, any more than you can cut off your own arm unless you somehow first disconnect with it, like that man trapped under the boulder who knew that his arm would be the death of him if he did not sever the link at the elbow.
I am told that eventually I will be in front of a judge armed with a lawyer and then I will likely get my disability. I wil look that man or woman in the eyes and explain about my pain and my son and his pain, and they will empathize. They will be asked how can I work, how can I continue to connect with the other workers when I feel so disconnected from them? My life is one of pain and joy. Pain when I awaken, joy when I no longer feel my body. The life of a worker is one of disconnect. They become grades. "I'm a 27, you're a 12. I know more than you and make more money. I am somehow slightly better than you." You probably see their children as diferent from your own, if you have children. This disconnect works for certain kinds of jobs. It does not work for seed planters. Rice farmers sing in the mud, thrusting rice plants into the earth like a cock into a vagina, creating new life. They become a single entity creating life. Office workers shuffle paper, move spots on a screen. Until their office is hit by a suicide bomber they relate to their grades and their desks. Then, screaming in unison, they run to the exits, freed of their grades and running towards life. They empathize with those left behind and struggle to run back and save them, even those whose grade levels are so much higher than their own. A manager comforts a mail clerk and they are one in pain.
Empathy allows us to achieve a higher consciousness. I have a name. If I name my chicken it becomes that much harder to kill them and if I am not a chicken killer, then I am forced by my connection to that hen to apologize for taking their egg. I explain to them why the egg won't hatch, why it becomes a health problem if allowed to rot. People think it's funny and strange that I talk to my hens, talk to my garden and the trees in my yard, but I try to empathize with my world, to achieve a higher consciousness through empathy with the life around me. It's a Way, maybe not your Way, but I have had a break of light through the clouds from time to time and miraculously the pain in my back was lessened.

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