Sunday, August 14, 2016

Strange Empathy

It’s a strange kind of empathy: one that resolutely condemns the choices, lifestyles, and self-declared identities of LGBT people, but also resolutely affirms that their underlying struggle is real.
Emma Green "Hating Queerness Without Hating the Queer"
I see nothing strange about it, even ignoring the widespread (and, let's admit it, not always followed) admonition to "Hate the sin, but love the sinner." Given that this is election season, it's easy to find examples up and down of people who see other people working to resolve real problems in their lives, yet condemn the choices they may in attempting to find that resolution. And it can be summed up in the concept of "voting against their own interests."

In fact, it's actually pretty rare that we concede that the reality of a struggle places the choices, lifestyles, and self-declared identities of the people who live that struggle above criticism, mainly because we are typically always willing to criticize choices we find objectionable and we are not accustomed to others supporting the right to make choices that they wouldn't actually select. I recall a conversation with an acquaintance, and their difficulty in understanding that I was at once pro-choice, yet unsympathetic to, and unsupportive of, the practice of abortion in general.

If that sort of empathy is at all strange, it's because we dislike acknowledging that people often have very valid reasons for making what we consider to be choices. And I think that becomes the issue in the end. I think there is an assumption that acknowledging that a given choice makes sense in a difficult situation becomes a de facto endorsement of that choice, and so we chalk choices up to failures of character and/or ethics rather than a lack of a better option at the time, perhaps because it feels wrong to both say that a choice was unacceptable and it may have been the best choice available under the circumstances.

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