Saturday, October 13, 2007

Empathy or Sympathy?

A reader with a keen eye will count two parenting errors, at least, in this story. At the end, though, please let me know if I'm describing empathy or sympathy.

We were eating a healthy dinner of broiled tilapia, steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes AND watching the Simpsons. Specifically, we were watching Million Dollar Abie where Grandpa Simpson does a lot of things, including Bullfighting. Trevor was OK during most of the show. He didn't feel bad for Grandpa Simpson when everyone hated him, and it didn't register that Grandpa was trying to kill himself when he got hooked up to the die-pod, and that didn't make him sad either.

But, then Grandpa got his new lease on life and he took up bull fighting. When the bull fighting started, Trevor got quiet and still. He stopped eating and he rested his cheek on his hand. It didn't occur to me at the time, but in hindsight, I would guess that his entire body was tense.

A couple of minutes into it, I recognized that something was amiss, and then I noticed the content on the screen. Grandpa Simpson was holding a sword over his head as the tired bull looked at him with sadness and tiredness in his eyes. And, I knew why Trevor was sad as the plaintive and mournful wail escaped from his tense little body.

I invited him to keep watching to see what happened next. Grandpa Simpson released the bulls and they ran happily through the streets of Springfield. But, the look in he bull's eyes continued to haunt Trevor. He sniffled and cried and folded himself into my arms. I patted his head and told him that it was OK to feel sad for the bull, but that the bull was OK. He still cried, and then asked to be carried to bed.

We took him to bed where he tried to brush his teeth. But, it's hard to brush your teeth when you're crying about a sad bull. Then I tucked him into bed where he surrounded himself with all of his sleeping friends (a group of stuffed animals that includes a bull). This made him cry. I hugged him and tried to soothe him and told him that I would see him in the morning.

And, when I saw him in the morning, he was fine for a few minutes, but then he cried some more for the bull. I tucked him into my arms and covered him with the blanket and reminded him how happy the bulls were as they ran through the streets of Springfield.

And, then the whole sad episode was over.

So, was it empathy or sympathy that made him cry? I don't really understand the difference between those two emotions... (I added a poll. See top left corner beneath the masthead. That way you can vote without leaving a comment.)

1 comment:

Jack said...


Isn't it odd how the very young cant produce what we adults often feel, even when we don't want to admit it?