TMI (Too Much Information)
EMOTIONAL VOYEURISM AND EMOTIVE EXHIBITIONISM MAY BE DEGRADING OUR ABILITY TO EMPATHIZE ... OR EVEN SYMPATHIZE ...
Update 07/15/17: When I first published this piece in November 2016, it was met with consternation in some quarters. And I wondered at the time if I was being overly sensitive --- or perhaps, more accurately, insensitive --- to the apparent needs of some to divulge on social media the details of their personal psychological trials and tribulations. However, the intervening nine months have confirmed me in my original intuition that we were facing the beginning of an outbreak of what, for want of a better term, I think of as mass group therapy.
Please understand that, if I am mildly sarcastic about such goings on, it is not because I am unsympathetic to those who are afflicted. Indeed, how could I be, as nearly every one of us is touched, in one form or another, by psychological frailties and ills. No, it is not the fact that so many people speak openly about their problems that troubles me, but that such a high percentage approach the matter on beBee, in effect, as a form of a selfie.
Nominally, many who choose to speak extensively of and constantly return to these matters, are seeking to help others. I get that. But when I read carefully and observe the pattern of their narrative --- which usually includes an invitation for others to join them in speaking out --- I cannot help but feel that what we are seeing are examples not of seeking to help others, but rather of misery loves company.
Which is my story ... and I'm sticking to it.
Preface: This is on the order of a rant --- polite and quiet, but a rant nevertheless. It's a protest against the Tyranny of Emotion that I see growing daily on social media. If you're of a mind to think this an attempt to control what is expressed on social media, you're wrong. For it is not. In any way. My only objective is to call to your attention what I believe is a disturbing and negative trend. Whether you personally choose to participate in this trend, is solely up to you. However, my mission here is to counsel against doing so.
empathy : noun : em·pa·thy \ˈem-pə-thē\ : the capacity for understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another .... without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner...Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Let's get something clear. People who genuinely empathize with others generally do not revel in emotionalism.
That is because those who are empathetic actually, in a very real way, feel the pain of others, their fears, their upsets, their depressions, their disillusions.
To be sure, those who are empathetic also feel the joy and elation of others, their happiness, their contentment. But the good emotions that empathetics feel are far less lasting in their cumulative impact than are the bad or negative ones.
Which is why most truly empathetic people I've known generally seek to filter or minimize the amount of emotionalism they are exposed to on a day to day basis...
Please note that when I speak of "empathetics", I am specifically not talking about "Empaths". In referring to the former, I am talking about ordinary people who have a deep sense of empathy for their fellow human beings. Whereas in the parlance of the paranormal, "Empaths" are those who reputedly tune in psychically to the emotional experience of a person, place or animal. Candidly, I have sufficient problems in dealing with the sphere of the normal, and so have absolutely no inclination to grapple with the constantly shifting ground of the paranormal.
That said, understand further that I am neither recommending nor seeking to eliminate emotive elements on social media --- or anywhere else, for that matter.
However, I am suggesting that, when it comes to emotional occurrences and experiences, TMI (too much information) can actually result in decreased, rather than increased sensitivity to the plight of others...
We've seen what overexposure to graphic violence in movies and TV has done to desensitize us. And we've seen what unceasing and explicit exposure to the horrors of terrorism and war in news coverage has done to us. Are we going to allow the increasing preoccupation with emotional and emotive expression on social media to add to the problem? I for one sincerely hope not.
Which is not to say that anyone's postings on social media should be censored or restricted. But we can reasonably take into our own hands the determination of how much emotional voyeurism and emotive exhibitionism we are exposed to on a daily basis. And we can choose not to foment and reinforce it with our own postings and comments and compliments.
We can also choose to steer clear of those who speak of virtually nothing else. Who use every post to draw us into a fixation with emotions and emotive content. Who use every comment to refocus attention upon themselves and their personal demons and travails.
Again, this is not to say that one should never be emotional or emotive or sympathetic or empathetic on social media. There is no doubt in my mind that some online relationships are very real, and that some people find personal connections online that they lack or fail to find elsewhere in their lives. And I see nothing wrong with joining hands across digital hyperspace in mutual support, as and when needed.
"... the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular..." Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov
I suggest that the ideal path is to be selective and authentic in both the asking for and giving of emotional support. For one can emotionally support some of one's connections all of the time. And perhaps all of one's connections some of the time. But never all of one's connections all of the time.
To try intentionally to do so, or even to simply fall into such by default, is to risk emotional burn-out and eventual loss of the ability to empathize at all --- ever. Which would surely be a shame. --- Phil Friedman
Post-script: Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. This post is an expression of mine. You are free to disagree. You are even free to say so in the comments thread for this post. Indeed, you are invited to do so. All on-point comments are welcomed and will be treated with respect and answered. So feel free to join the conversation. --- PLF
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.
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