Is the World Black and White? Or are there Shades of Gray?

Recently I did something I thought I would never do… I allowed the cruel words of a complete stranger to get under my skin.  I allowed them to wound me.  To cause me to question myself (for a minute or two).

Normally, I only concern myself with the opinions of people who matter to me – those who I love and/or respect.  All other opinions just roll off my back…. Normally.

Something was different the night this happened.  Something about this opinion just wouldn’t be ignored.

Perhaps I have just been more sensitive lately, with some of the recent events in my life (that I won’t go into now).  Or perhaps so much time separating myself from harmful people caused my emotional calluses to soften.  Or perhaps it was just meant to be that I have this experience.  That I learn from it.

The words weren’t really about me, you must understand.  The person who wrote them never met me and did not have me in mind.  She was merely expressing her thoughts about a group of people that I am included within.  You see, in this woman’s world – because I can check a certain box off next to my name, I have no empathy and am not capable of feeling love – oh, and I am an INSECT.  (There are only two kinds of people empaths and insects, didn’t you know that?  Yeah, it was news to me as well.)

This person believes “the world really is black and white” so therefore I am EXACTLY the same as a PSYCHOPATH.  To her, just by existing, I am as harmful as a serial killer.  Just by existing, I may as well be skinning people in my basement. (A touch of hyperbole here, but most deserving of it, I assure you.)

Why?  Because: “Call it by a name; narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, bipolar, even autistic. All disorders lacking empathy. Cluster “B” personalities. They can not love. On the other end there is depression, anxiety, stress… All disorders felt by those who have empathy and usually as a result of dealing with a non-empathetic person.” [I will NOT link to the original source, as this person does not deserve your attention.]

(Should I mention the irony that she thinks people with Cluster “B” Personality Disorders are insects when one of those disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, is identified as having “extreme black and white thinking”?  Of course, this same person ALSO went on to say that spreading hate about someone different than themselves makes them an insect – so there seems to be A LOT of projection at work here.)

To be perfectly honest, as I was first reading her blog I didn’t think she was just the worthless human being she clearly is (perhaps I suffered a head wound).  I innocently thought she was just miseducated.  After all, some of the disorders on her list CAN present with a lack of empathy or difficultly recognizing emotions in others.  Perhaps she just misunderstood what that meant.  Most people who haven’t dealt with mental illness first hand are completely clueless about it.

For a bit there, I foolishly thought I could actually educate her and make the world a slightly better place.  (Maybe that has a lot to do with why I allowed her words to have such a strong effect on me.)  I mean, not EVERYTHING she said was so off-base.  Such as the following:

“Wars should not be about religion, politics nor race. None of those things really matter. What does matter, is being human and helping one another.”

But then I started to read some of the upset comments people had left her…. And her responses back.  The things she said to the parents of autistic children were just plain DERANGED.  She told them their children didn’t really love them, that they were just convincing themselves that they did to make themselves feel better, and that the PARENTS were SPREADING HATE by ENABLING their children!

Logically I knew nothing I had to say would make any difference either, so don’t know why I bothered.  But I couldn’t live with myself if I said nothing.  So I left a comment of my own.

“The only way to see the world in black and white, is to lack empathy yourself. Those who possess empathy have the ability to see the shades of gray created by trying to understand another human being’s perspective. Not everyone feels things the same or reacts to things the same, and you can never know what goes on inside them. But if you have empathy, you try to. If you don’t try to, you don’t have empathy.

‘Any person who spreads hate about someone different than them, you can almost automatically assume that person is an insect.’

The people who suffer from the disorders you mentioned are different from you, and rather than try to understand them you have made things easier for yourself by writing them off. You’ve manufactured justification so there is no need to try to understand them by turning them into an “insect”. And in this post, you are telling others to do so as well – and that is most certainly spreading hate.”

I felt good about my comment.  Very good.  But somehow my cloud still lingered.  Her words of hate still clawed at my soul.  This woman is the embodiment of the fears of stigma that every person with a mental illness has in their heart when it comes to people “finding out”.   I thought she was just the bogeyman.  (i.e. I was scared of people feeling the way she does, but never actually BELIEVED that educated people in this day and age really did.)

Thankfully, she responded back to me.  Because her response was enough to finally knock some sense into me and help me to stop caring about her opinion.

Her reply: “Those who see “grey”and feel empathy are enablers. The only thing more dangerous than an insect is an empathy driven person tricked into enabling an insect.”

Sooo… what you’re saying is… the only thing worse than NOT feeling empathy… is actually FEELING empathy???  I was actually foolish enough to allow THIS person’s words upset me?  Shit, now I’m embarrassed as hell.  But like I said earlier, perhaps I was MEANT to have this experience.  Because retrospectively, I feel like it was profoundly important.

Even after I stopped allowing myself to be hurt by it, the experience stayed on my mind all night and all day.  It’s ironic – being told I was not capable of feeling empathy just opened me up to a new level of empathy when it comes to how it feels to be discriminated against.

Here’s the thing – I have been discriminated against plenty of times in my life for various things (as has EVERYONE at some point). For my gender, my age, my appearance, my social status, my sexuality, and of course my mental illness. The list goes on.

Sometimes this discrimination is not even worth discussion, because it’s just the opinion of some asshole on the street. Sometimes it’s more dangerous and has kept me from getting jobs or promotions that I deserved or otherwise impacted my ability to live my life the way I deserve to.

But this… this was the first time I ever experienced discrimination that made me feel SUB-HUMAN. The difference between someone assuming you aren’t as good as they are because of something you cannot control versus someone assuming you aren’t the same SPECIES as they are and are therefore INCAPABLE of feeling the same emotions as they do. That you are completely wiped out as being A PERSON.

I didn’t realize this level of discrimination still existed in the First World.  But it’s just a small sliver of what Black people had to endure during slavery and segregation, or Jews during the Holocaust, and many other groups in different times and cultures.  Except not just from one random asshole – from society as a whole. From the LAW and respected, educated people.

This has always been some of the darkest parts of humanity, and I have always had a very soft spot for the people who endured it and a hatred of the people who enacted it. But I now feel like I can better put myself in their shoes and imagine their pain. It physically hurts. I’ve had to stop myself from publically crying. (Must be a fluke though, since people with Bipolar Disorder can’t feel empathy or love.)

So thank you, random bitch on the internet.  Your hatred just helped to make me a slightly better and more understanding person.

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