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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

The sorrows of the rational empath

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Talking with a number of people around the blog, I’ve discovered a lot of us are having a hard time right now. It’s probably gotten worse since we’ve been bombarded with (and even indirectly blamed for) the slaughter of the children in Connecticut. But for many of us, the times (and our moods) were already rough. Maybe the election triggered it. Maybe the incessant war-mongering of the last 11 years. Maybe the latest “blessing” from the Department of Homeland (Achtung!) Security. Maybe Christmas or the dark skies. But if angst and depression are contagious, they’re definitely going around.

One grown man I know cried today because there were just too many sorrows — and too many a**holes rushing to build agendas on them.

He also said something that I suspect is key to what ails a lot of us: these are hard days for people who are both rational and empathetic.

I’d never thought of it that way. But he’s right.

Rational empaths. That’s what many of us are. Not all, but a good portion of us. And it’s a damned hard thing to be in a world where rational is judged to be unfeeling and empathy is fashionably divorced from all reason.

We care as much as anyone about the trust and safety of children. But when we show that disarming their protectors puts them in worse danger, we’re called “cold” and “hard hearted.”

We’re used to this, actually. We get this every day. If we point out the very human benefits of ending the drug war, people often scream that we want crazed meth heads roaming the streets, families destroyed, 10-year-olds hooked on heroin. We must be monsters to prize freedom, if that’s the cost. When we try to explain that crazed meth heads (and bursting prisons, and broken families, etc.) are more a product of the drug war than of actual drugs, most likely we just get yelled at louder because we “don’t care” about how much people suffer.

Even in the best of times, this can be hard to take. And these aren’t the best of times, it goes without saying.


The only answer I have for this is a three-parter.

1. This, too, shall pass.

2. We are a marginalized minority, which is always a hard thing to be (but which can be liberating, too).

3. And it’s people on the fringes who create the world anew every day. We are a creative force, looking beyond what is to what could be. That’s not always an easy thing. But it is a worthwhile thing.

Oh, and there’s a fourth part: We have each other. Thanks largely to the ‘Net, we have that.

And the tighter they grasp, the more slips through their fingers. Never forget that.


Slight change of plans. Instead of becoming a beach bum (and the economics of that were just not working out, in any case), from now until New Year I’m going to post only positive things.

Oh, I don’t mean the usual sort of “good news” things. You won’t be subjected to tales of guardian angels bringing cute kittens to adorable cancer-striken tots, I promise you.

(Well, at least I won’t do any such subjecting. I can’t be responsible for glurge you may pick up (like a social disease) elsewhere.)

But starting tomorrow and continuing for the next two weeks (barring the scheduled end of the world or some unforseen development that simply has to be dealt with), everything I post will be something worthwhile in a good way.

Might be funny. Useful. Encouraging. Entertaining. Could be that even a few smidges of uplifting-ness and mildly heartwarm-ery will sneak their way onto the blog, even though I normally oppose such things on general curmudgeonly principle.

But — for this little while — let’s step out of the sewage stream of the badness.

People often send me news links — often of appalling nature — and I’ve got a bunch I’ve intended to post. But I’m not going to. So if you’ve sent me news about the crocodile tears of hired killers or the latest development in high-tech torture or even the latest worry for people too foolish to quit using Internet Explorer, I’m not going to post it. Not for now. (Thanks, anyhow, J, M, and H.)

To heck with it. It’s Christmas. Hannukah. Yule. Solstice. New Year. Time for dark to yield to light. Out with the old and bad. Let’s take a couple of weeks break to celebrate what’s good and build on what we can make even better in our own lives.

It’s been rough. It’ll get rough again. But let’s not forget to laugh at the bastards and create our own lives in our own spirit — and for that, we need our best spirits.

24 Responses to “The sorrows of the rational empath”

  1. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit Says:

    Newtonmas. Don’t forget Newtonmas.

  2. David Says:


  3. Kyle MacLachlan Says:

    “You won’t be subjected to tales of guardian angels bringing cute kittens to adorable cancer-striken tots,…”
    I can definitely do without kittens (and cats, for that matter) but a funny dog picture or video always brings a smile to my face, so I hope you show some prejudice towards the tail-wagging crowd :-).
    Merry Christmas (and /or whatever other celebrations are done in your household) to you and all the four-legged kids!

  4. naturegirl Says:

    “create our own lives in our own spirit” – that’s really it, right there….

  5. Claire Says:

    Hogswatchnight. Hogswatchnight! How could I have forgotten!

    Newtownmas? I don’t even want to ask.

    And worry not, Kyle MacL. The browser tabs are already bursting with cute dogstuff.

    naturegirl — exactly. Sometimes even the best of us forget. Another good reason to have each other — to keep the reminders coming.

  6. jed Says:

    What, no cats?

    Too late this year too — I always forget about Krampusnacht. However, Festivus is just around the corner.

  7. Pat Says:

    “And it’s a damned hard thing to be in a world where rational is judged to be unfeeling and empathy is fashionably divorced from all reason.”

    Oh, boy, have you hit a nerve! There’s no understanding from people too eager to project their own agenda on a minority viewpoint.

    I was going to comment on “Evil” but there was nothing to add, and it was too sad to comtemplate. While MamaL reads history, I read poetry when in the throes of despair; it’s the only thing that can lighten my soul.

    The history being made today – in the White House and Congress, and around the world – is more scary than any perceived apocalypse. One could almost wish apocalypse would take place, to clean up this earth, so whoever is left could start over.

    Am looking forward to the next two weeks of sane commentary. H. L. Mencken said, “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”

  8. Joel Says:

    Rational empathy is too much work. Curmudgeonry is much simpler. A bunch of kids got massacred and somebody’s blaming me? I was nowhere near there!

  9. Matt, another Says:

    I can do rational, but empathy is not in me. I will appreciate positive pots though. I do find myself dwelling to much on the negative. I’ll try to think happy thoughts, or maybe just roll one in solidarity with WA andCO.

  10. Kevin Wilmeth Says:

    Every time I try to hang it up and be a proper ‘mudge out of overwhelming frustration, the “rational empath” (great term BTW) powers up, comes out and beats the ‘mudge back into the closet. And there he waits, biding his time until The Stupid again reaches some critical mass and gives him relevancy once again.

    Sometimes these two bastards perform this ritual dance several times a day.

    By this point I should recognize that it’s just who I am and let them both be who they are, but the way life has been lately, I always seem to be occupying the less-optimum role at any given time.

  11. Kevin Wilmeth Says:

    In solidarity with the “more positive” concept, I’ll start by offering what has just been the latest yin-yang object lesson for me. Out of the churning sea of drek that has been so frustrating me lately, I got an unexpected reminder that some really are listening, and are willing to discuss like human beings. It seems like a needle in a haystack sometimes, but I must remember that going against the grain is inherently an (ahem) under-the-radar activity for many people, and also that the quality of a real human interaction can offset some of the otherwise depressing number of tribal pile-on interactions.

    I needed that, and I got it. I’ll try to pass it along as well.

  12. RickB Says:

    Too weird.
    I have been getting overwhelmed and I decided, last night, to concentrate on only good stuff (for as long as I can hold out).
    Claire nails it again!

  13. G.W.F. Says:

    I thing the effort to post only positive happy thoughts for the rest of the year is very admirable! Personally, I’ll follow Joel’s curmudgeonry model. It seems to be working for me.

  14. MamaLiberty Says:

    Wonderful, Claire. You’ve always been a bright spot in the gloom – so many ways. We need this. :)

  15. Stryder Says:

    I blame Reagan, oh, no, not Ronald, I blame Nancy Reagan.
    We’ve always had troubles as a country, there have always been strife but one thing we seemed to have was a “can do” attitude, until Nancy came along with her “Just Say No” slogan.
    Words are powerful and with this slogan she pushed negativity into the national thought process. We can’t do that, we can’t do this, we shouldn’t try the other. What ever happened to “yes”? “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” These were not just good sound bites, not mere platitudes, but a reflection on the mood of the country. We had problems, we looked to see solutions and then we acted on those solutions. Now, we scare each other, we look for neat names for things, “We’re going over a Fiscal Cliff!” no, we’re just going to change the way we do things. “They’re going to take away our Social Security!” Maybe, maybe not.
    It’s time to say “yes” again, Yes, we can. Yes, Life is worth living, yes, we can do that for you, Why yes, I can fix that. The power of Yes is immense, It’s the answer we all want, the way to get that answer is to give that answer. Just for fun, pick a day, any day you want, and answer yes to everything you are asked. Don’t be silly, answer yes to yes /no questions, not things like “what time is it?” but you get the idea.Would it really be so bad to say yes to doing things for others instead of the old”I’ve got mine, now you go get yours” mindset? It’s time for a new movement, we CAN start it ourselves.
    Just Say Yes.

  16. ILTim Says:

    What, we don’t celebrate Festivus around here? So exclusionary. ;)

  17. LibertyNews Says:

    Just stop reading/watching/listening to the news. ‘News’ isn’t good for you. Instead spend your time creating something new. Thinking. Daydreaming. Playing. The world is *not* going to end just because you missed the latest breaking news update from CNN.

    I used to wonder how some of my friends could be so ‘uninformed’ about daily events. Until I realized that none of those events really meant anything for my daily life and that they were actually a burden. Try it for a couple weeks and you’ll never go back.

  18. zelda Says:

    I’ve so enjoyed Claire’s post and all of your responses. Stryder’s comment is especially interesting to me –

  19. furrydoc Says:

    The media is quick to blame guns and gun enthusiast, but no one is talking about the medication this kid was on. I worry that the over medication/mismedication of kids in our society may be the cause of this psychotic behavior.

    I agree with Claire’s Yes Agenda, we can all make a small difference.

  20. Mr Galt Says:


  21. kycolonel Says:

    “But let’s not forget to laugh at the bastards and create our own lives in our own spirit — and for that, we need our best spirits.”

    This really the only alternative we have in order to maintain a semblance of sanity. (I recommend moderation with the sanity thing.) :-)

    Kyle: Cats rule!!!!

  22. Oline Says:

    I like the term Rational empathy. It is as good as another I use Pessimistic Optimist. People often feel that the terms are exclusive but they aren’t. A person with rational empathy would feel bad for all the people involved. They might even feel that we need to look into what drove the “shooter” to commit such an act and ways to perhaps help the next potential “shooter” before it happens again. A pessimistic optimist is one who hopes for the best but prepares for the worst. and generally for all things in between.
    May peace be with you if not in the community/world may it at least fill your heart, mind, and spirit.

  23. winston Says:

    Spent a lot of time thinking about this one today actually.

    I’ve always felt like you sort of mentally pay for having certain forms of intelligence (and I’m considering empathy a form of intelligence sans the touchy feely definition) in the form of over thinking and general angst or whatever. It kind goes back to a red pill/blue pill thing when you think about it…

  24. Ellendra Says:

    I like the term rational empath, but I think it needs a subsection: “practical empath”.

    I feel sorrow and outrage over the disasters, man-made and otherwise, that hit people. But at the same time my brain is usually stuck in “problem-solving” mode, so I sometimes come off as cold-hearted, or even sound like I’m blaming the victim. I’m not! I just don’t know how to express it.

    As an example, I was in college when Katrina hit. I remember a friend and I looking at the same picture on the front page of the paper, that showed houses flooded up to the eaves, with debris floating everywhere. She was thinking “Oh my god, how could anyone survive that?”

    I was figuring which pieces of debris could be lashed together to make a servicable craft, calculating how many people it would hold, and mentally mapping the most navigable route. Why? Because that’s how my brain works.

    That didn’t go over too well with my friend, I think maybe she thought I was saying the victims deserved it for not being creative enough???

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