Saturday, September 15, 2012

The fine line between pity and contempt

I was talking with a friend the other day. A friend who's quite focused in their career, but with a huge amount of compassion. A class act, the full package.

And he dazzled with a piece of valuable insight. Insight that squares with what I believe.

"There's a fine line between pity and contempt"

And this guy pointed out that the line is crossed when the person you're talking with continues to suffer, without doing anything to help themselves. External forces will often offer us the position of victim. It's our choice as to whether we choose to assume that role.

So this guy recounts sitting with a coworker who seems to have been treated poorly by their employer. This person was on a countdown to being asked to leave - very methodical. But there were things his coworker could be doing that might change their future. They weren't doing any of those things. No plan As, no plan Bs.

I think my friend might have it mostly right. I'd probably see it as a continuum that goes from empathy, through pity to contempt. I think once you're an object of pity it's pretty much all over.

And the best place to play to when someone else holds all the cards is a place where what they do doesn't matter any more. You might not achieve that overnight, but it is worth pursuing.

That's not to say that one doesn't get stuck, sometimes. Bad employers, bad relationships, bad business deals where pursuing a plan B involves a major self image change, a step out of the comfort zone. But choosing danger over victimhood (because of the appearance of security) doesn't seem a choice, to me.

Zapata was said to say "better to die on your feet than live on your knees."


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