“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” ~ or why compassion for others may be something only learned the hard way

He jests at scars that never felt a wound” or why compassion for
others may be something only learned the hard way.

I finally had to bite the bullet this last week and face my nemesis. Well,  one of them. This is my fifth season teaching the summer school and until last week I’ve avoided doing a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. I hate this play with a passion. Truly. But the previous day’s lesson could  really only be followed up with a lesson with the theme of LOVE and  inevitably that ends up leading to that play.

I hate it for a number of reasons, and the sheer stupidity of this
fiction that dying for love is somehow supremely romantic is one of
them. I have almost no romantic bone in my body. To me, there is
little more futile than suicide because of thwarted or lost love. I’m
fully sympathetic with those who feel this way; it’s not them who I
have issues with but rather the media and the culture that seems to
glorify this as the ultimate romantic gesture(albeit a truly tragic
one)

The lesson went well. I avoided the bear-traps of sex and the Shakespeare was pleasingly incomprehensible. But one line jumped off the page at me. I’ve not touched the play since university and it isn’t one I’ve ever read for pleasure. But, “he jests at scars that never felt a wound,” from Act 2 scene 2, made me shiver a little, bringing back memories I’d rather forget.

After my own pathetic attempt to take my own life all but one of the people I came into contact with in hospital were very kind to me. The one who was not was a night nurse who disparaged me, to my face and told me I was just another silly girl who ought to know better. She mocked me. Over the intervening years, I’ve pondered why she was so mean towards me.

This line from Shakespeare told me why. Unless you are naturally very empathetic, understanding someone else’s pain can only come from a place of experience. And if you have not experienced something closely similar, then there is a real chance that someone else’s reactions to a heartbreak may well seem silly or over-dramatic. We do not have hearts that bruise at the same rate; what hurts me may not even touch another. What pains you may not even be something I notice.

I took a small risk and very briefly told my students of my experience, at roughly the same age as they are now and how, within weeks of that my whole life was transformed and how. Never give up, I told them, never let go of hope for better. Everyone needs to have their heart broken at least once in a lifetime because it teaches you compassion, I said.

I hope they remember this, if nothing else, from their stay in England.

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10 thoughts on ““He jests at scars that never felt a wound” ~ or why compassion for others may be something only learned the hard way

  1. I have met a few people in my life who have no empathy for their fellow human beings. Most psychiatrists will tell you this is the mark of a psychopath – lack of empathy. I have also heard it said that one in a hundred has psychopathic tendencies (it may be more – been a while since I read about it) Some people just don’t have it, and I think some are incapable of it. I have it in large amounts. But then, like you I have tried to take my own life, and since then, the empathy I had already has grown ever more. I have two male friends whose faces contort with utter disbelief when I talk about empathy for others – they just don’t get it, one admits freely he has none at all for others – yet he demands it of others toward him…. go figure as ‘they’ say.

    • I did a lot of reading recently about psychopaths (i went out with a probable one at uni) and yes, I suspect a lot of “normal” folks fall somewhere on that line.
      Empathy is a double edged gift.
      xx

  2. I’ve had a few things brought that play back to mind lately. I don’t think it is the Love that they killed themselves over. It was the abuse by family. The lack of empathy that caused the deaths.

    And all the times I’ve thought of killing myself (many many) it was my empathy which stopped me. Like I could just drive off the cliff because the oil and gasoline and the fire would harm the lovely habitat and the birds.

    Juliette wasn’t poisoning herself. She was trying to stab the unfeeling controling people lording it over her. At least that’s how I see it now.

    • That’s a very interesting take on it, Bahb.
      And yes, I used to make sure i took my dog with me to the beach on bad days so that I wouldn’t walk into the sea; couldn’t do that to her. Now she is gone, I don’t go near the seashore on bad days.
      x

  3. (when I “like” and don’t comment it’s because your words have so touched me that I’m at loss with words and don’t have anything to add. Well said.)

  4. The one thing it is difficult for empathetic people to understand is non-empathetic people. I work in a field where empathy is actively taught. I never understood this. I always thought its not something you can learn, except through personal experience. I’ve been told I’m very empathetic. For me, it makes my job harder. I think I would be better at it and could work longer at it if I wasn’t so much. I suspect I will burn out quickly because of it. A mixed blessing.

    • Very much a mixed blessing indeed. I hope you find a way to stay unburned.
      And yes, I find it very hard to understand people who simply don’t feel empathy.
      Thank you for visiting.

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