short story


She always apologised before he ever did.  Apology meant safety even when it wasn’t right.  Most of the time it was actually right, because most of the time she didn’t do right.  But there were some occasions, even in her case, that she did do something right – and, all the same, he clearly demanded – his attitude and behaviour indicating as much – that she say sorry for a non-existent transgression.

The problem with life was the malleable nature of humanity: he wanted black and white; she wanted something gentler.  He was supposed to be the gentleman; in fact, she was far gentler than he; in fact, whilst he was a man, gentle wasn’t at all what characterised him.

There came a point in her curious life, however, where she found it impossible to work out whether she herself was a gentle lady or a repressed man in disguise.

The fact of the matter lay in how she kowtowed to the expectations he raised around her: she couldn’t decide if it was the power of his being, his character, his sensibilities or his manliness all round, or instead the ability she manifestly inscribed to place herself exactly in two places at once.

To be man and woman both, it would seem, was both a dream and a nightmare – it depended on what you thought.  It also depended on the people around you: how they treated you; whether kindly and with empathy or compassion or, instead, as a threat to the peace of the world.  Not exactly, you realise, but that’s how she felt sometimes.

And it showed itself in the rows they had, where she’d almost always give in to him first.  And she used to wonder if it was his violence onboard; the dragon he’d become; the aggressor unbound.  But lately she’d be considering the fact of her own empathy: was she really a victim to his supposed abuse or did she simply, truly, find it so easy to identify with anyone – not just him, I mean; the whole world and the cat’s mother – and see the world from the eyes of a man like him just as easily as from the eyes of a woman she was meant to be?

What if the reason for her permissiveness in matters of violent acts against her person had more to do with her than the people supposedly committing the violence?  What if the solution to her situation lay not in prevention but cure?  What if empathy and its accompanying tears had actually been the real cause of her long-term downfall – had led to her obvious inability to get along in life on the back of her own ingenuity, intelligence and innate being?

And if empathy was the problem, and the tears she shed only brought her misery, would it not be better to act out of compassion?  Would it not be better to help out both parties?

And that’s when she realised the truth of the matter: in order to live, you need to survive, of course – but surviving doesn’t have to convert you into something brutal beyond measure.  The act of survival was a given for all humanity: without survival, procreation was impossible.  And without procreation, reproduction’s absence would lead to the death of the whole species.

But survival and its necessity should never be used as an excuse for fomenting the brutality of humanity’s actions.  And it was here that she realised that empathy, whilst admirable, was actually a tool for allowing such fomenting.

Much better, then, than weeping buckets of sadness at pictures of broken children and writings of broken nations would be to re-engineer such borderline self-indulgence into the strength of purpose of compassionate activity.

And that’s when she truly realised her purpose on the planet: just as much as her empathy had allowed the violence of her partner, so the empathy of a generation had generated the injustices of a civilisation.  And in order to prevent such default[y] positions, it was time – at least for her (for others she could not speak) – to act in a different way: to act in a compassionate way.

She knew as yet not how to start, nor how to promote, nor how to grow.

But at least she knew what she wanted to start on.

At last, she’d found herself a purpose.



I feel kinda kinder than ever I did.

I feel kinda warmer than ever I did.

I feel kinda fearful that what I have done

is not as good as good could be but maybe

as good as others might have done.

And emerging from online into reality

is something that grown-ups like me

should learn – that’s be able! – to face and

own up to, like fly with a swat (only gentler

perhaps; yes, gentler is nicer by far).

And maybe I ought to feel kinda fearful,

and maybe I shouldn’t feel kinda warmer,

and maybe that “kinder” I feel’s out of fear,

but really I do have to tell you dear people,

whether my being is grand, rubbish or

someone in between, at least let us

grown-ups own up to the need

for the love which befriends us and brings

us back home: the love that is truth,

empathy and compassion: the love

that might one day be



us all.


* I read the other day of the difference between empathy and compassion.  If I remember rightly, empathy causes us to cry for the other; compassion, meanwhile, leads us to help out the other.  Empathy makes the one feel good.  Compassion makes the both more human.

I wonder if this is so, and whether this may make us all so very much stronger.

I wonder … and to be honest, am terribly terribly confused …

Yup.  That’s the truth.  Oh yes, it really is.


short short story

Empathy twice removed [or Rosenhan revisited] (II)

He only ever absorbed what he saw around him.  If people were good, he picked up the goodness and amplified it as much as he could.  But some not so good people were not at all happy when they sensed – consciously or subconsciously (like underwater weapon of significant war) – that the good they found it more difficult to control could be amplified by someone like him.

His life wasn’t a bed of scented roses, mind – and if it was, then only in the sense that thorns accompanied: if the people around him were tending towards bad, he’d pick up the badness just as easily as the good.  And then this was exactly where the conflict emerged: this was what helped to destroy the life he could’ve led: this was what happened which no one understood: this was the reason for the death of his being: this was the fact that explained everything there was – everything there was to be explained by everything he could.

In picking up the badness, and the future and the plans, and the lies and the half-truths of bad people around, his conscience forewarned simply disallowed his participation: he became utterly unable to proceed with any project: the reasons were simple: the opportunities so grand for even the fairly good people to one day take a gander down routes and pathways and alleyways and doorways which would take them to the land of the truly bad.

And so they considered him paranoid, when in fact he was right.

And he found it impossible to live with the knowledge.

So he closed down his humanity, and spat out his anger, and finally became the person he had never ever wanted to be: as bad as the bad, for sure – and even as bad as the only moderately good.

For there’s nothing much worse than a bad man or woman who clearly proclaims their condition.  Except, of course, when the bad man or woman is bad because they’ve chosen to be only moderately good.  And in the crimes of such lukewarm halfway houses, therein lie so many compromises which lead to the half-truths of people who pretend to understand it all – even as they hide it all from perfect view.

It was so hard to learn to live a lie.

It is terribly so for all the invisibly disabled.

But in the truth and fact of the matter to hand, he’d been obliged to learn to live that lie he’d been accused of reverting to precisely because too many people feared the truth of his life: and in the end, the lie he found himself living during decades of grossly imposed inhibition was needed much more by them – by their duplicitous lot – than ever was needed by himself.

And if he now continued to tell porkies for their overwhelming benefit, it was precisely for the pigs who knew all the reasons why.