Sistem magazine is truly spectacular, one of the best, top publication, but right now I could do with flicking through the wisdom filled pages of Mizz magazine. Not because I need to read the latest Top Of The Pops gossip or because I fancy a free tube of bright blue hair mascara, but because I need a simple and easy personality quiz, to help me solve my quandary. A quandary that has overstayed its welcome in my subconscious and is quite frankly violating the terms of our tenancy agreement by pushing itself to the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. Today I am asking: am I an empath or am I a pushover? I imagine the quiz would be illustrated with glittery question marks and neon heart shapes and feature questions like:
‘Have you ever agreed to do something you don’t want to do in order to spare a friend’s feelings?‘
‘Do you often put the feelings of others ahead of your own?’
I think I have always been an empathetic person, it’s something I have felt way before i’d even heard the word empathy. Some of my earliest memories include being on the verge of tears while performing a particularly heartfelt song in a musical about Evacuees in primary school. Just imagining how those children felt moving to the countryside away from their parents during WW2 really did a number on me. Or there was the time an especially emotional NSPCC advert triggered the flood gates to open, much to the concern of my poor Mother who momentarily thought the circumstances were much more sinister. But no, I was just emotionally exhausted from taking a stroll around the block in somebody else’s shoes. Moments like this have continued to punctuate my adulthood which leads me to think I was more than just a sensitive child.
Empathy is defined as the ability to share feelings with others which by all accounts makes you a good friend, and generally a decent ally. However, we begin to crossover in to pushover territory when we allow the feelings of others to consistently trump our own. And contrary to my own beliefs, this does not actually help anyone.
I am starting to wonder if I have used this idea of empathy to disguise something a little more disturbing. I have been thinking this since I listened to an interview with Lenny Henry in which he detailed his family’s desire to assimilate at all costs as one of the few Black families in his home town of Dudley in the 1970’s. He touched upon the idea that assimilation equals an approval of sorts and it really struck a chord with me. My upbringing was, similarly, majority white and I wonder if my need to avoid rubbing people up the wrong way was akin to not wanting to come across as difficult or demanding for fear of it having a knock on effect on the perception of a whole race. If you’re one of very few black people in an area it is easy to think that your actions speak for an entire race. As sweeping statements and assumptions about blackness still continue to fill our news outlets here in the UK it is easy to understand why my younger self felt that way.
In a world that is becoming more and more entwined in a dangerous dance with apathy, (for the record I wholeheartedly blame the Conservatives, Republicans and right wing media) I do believe that a high capacity for empathy should be worn like a badge of honour. In fact I implore you flex your empathy muscle all day long as bloodshed, injustice and genuine horror fill our timelines and news feeds. I just worry that more often than I’d like to admit, empathy has sometimes clouded my better judgment. Never fear, this is not my way of telling you I’m about to go through a total personality transformation. Like many things in life I guess the difference between being an empath and a pushover can be measured on a kind of sliding scale, however I am certain that someone has rigged my scale to always tip towards the pushover.