Idle ponderings of an outsider

One of most eccentric characteristics is that I don’t own a TV. Not only that, this lack of ownership is something that makes me very, very happy. As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), I find the sensory overload that comes from TV (or movies) to be literally painful—physically and emotionally. It tends to send me into extreme emotional tailspins even on short exposures.

Likewise, I don’t follow the news on the internet for the most part. I definitely avoid the videocasts of news, but I don’t even regularly check the headlines unless I have otherwise been alerted that there is important news that I need to know in order take effective action. (I emphasize that the ability and need for me to take action in a situation is the real key for me.) I’ve made this change more recently, but it has freed up so much energy for me to focus elsewhere and has radically decreased my level of negativity and pessimism about life in general.

While these two things tend to make me a bit of an outsider in terms of my lack of familiarity with pop culture, breaking news, and famous people, I’ve discovered that being the outsider isn’t all bad. In fact, this outsider perspective allows me to watch the impact of the ubiquitous pop culture on people around me in a different way for not having been exposed to the same influences in the same way. It’s almost like being a bit of an anthropologist observing an unfamiliar cultural system.

The recent devastating tornadoes in various parts of the country have given me another opportunity to observe behavior from this outsider perspective. I have witnessed so many people who feel like it is imperative to watch as much of the devastation as they possibly can in order to ensure that they are properly horrified by what has happened. I see and hear people urging one another to watch videos of the damage because they are so awful. This is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of reaction—in fact, nearly every disaster in recent memory has provoked a similar response—but for some reason, I find myself taking greater notice of how different I am this time around.

I have not watched any of the videos of the damage, and I have no intention of doing so. I am aware of what has happened and have seen reports of the death toll and the number of injured and missing. I do have great compassion for those who are affected, and I believe every effort should be made to provide any and all assistance possible. However, I sometimes have people act like my refusal to watch the devastation makes me less compassionate than they are because I am less emotional distraught.

I do recognize that the availability of the videos of the devastation may move people to be more generous with their assistance to those who are in need and may encourage others to take more precautions when similar weather conditions are present near them in the future. However, so many of the people who I see getting all wrapped up in needing to watch the damage and horrify themselves with the awfulness of it seem to stop with the emotional reaction. It’s as if they somehow (subconsciously) believe that if they make themselves feel bad enough about what has happened to others, then they have played their part in helping. It’s as if the degree by which they are horrified proves that they are compassionate, so no further action is needed on their part.

I’m not criticizing people I know who act this way (goodness knows I’ve been there and done that myself all too recently); I can even accept the possibility that I am genuinely less emotional and/or less compassionate than other people. (Although given the depth of my empathic response to people, I think this is unlikely.) I am mostly just puzzled by why we (as a culture) choose to operate in this way. What is it about working ourselves into a state of emotional hand-wringing and horror that makes us feel like we are being responsible, compassionate fellow citizens? It’s really a fascinating question to ponder.

Incidentally, the people I have known who are most involved in working to help provide assistance in situations like this are often the ones who seem the least emotionally distraught about it. They are too busy raising money, getting involved, and somehow doing something to make a difference to spend their energy on excess emotion. Yet, their actions would indicate that they are truly the most compassionate and responsible among us.

I don’t really have any conclusions about this. I am just finding it an interesting phenomenon to ponder this evening. Most importantly, I am pondering the ways that I do this myself now that I have seen this behavior so clearly modeled for me in others. As a co-dependent, I know I have frequently felt like I needed to be appropriately emotionally distraught by the plights that those near and dear to me were facing in order to “prove” that I was a good, caring person. Over the last few months, I’ve noticed that need dropping away.

I still care deeply about those that I love. I am still concerned about loved ones who are hurting or suffering. I still offer my help and support whenever there is something useful that I can do. I don’t walk around in the constant angst and hand-wringing suffering on their behalf that I used to do. In fact, I’m noticing that the release of all the angst has actually made me more able to offer support than I could when I was spending so much energy on emotion.

And those, my friends, are the idle ponderings of this outsider on a stormy night between the rounds of tornado sirens.

A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a very fragile place, and it takes a good deal of vulnerability to share this personal journey of transformation so openly. Therefore, I need this to be a safe place for exploration and sharing for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight—or the expression of that experience or insight—are NOT welcome here and will be deleted.