Empathy, Sympathy, and Decency in the New Millennium

21 Oct

Cancer Blog Community Support

In many ways, my dad’s funeral was awe inspiring, 200 plus people crowded into a small funeral home chapel to pay their respects to a man who, let’s face it, could be a bit of a pain in the ass.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was brilliant and had a great heart, but he was surely a massive and dominating presence in people’s lives.  I have often wondered if I could pull a similar crowd.  After all, my friends are spread across the globe.  I’m not the best at staying in touch—better than others, but far worse than many.  I live in Los Angeles and most of my family lives in NY.  Who would possibly come and pay their respects to me?  Now, though, I suspect that I could equal if not exceed my father’s send-off, at least virtually.  The outpouring of care and kindness that has emerged in response to first posting was, at once, gratifying, humbling, overwhelming, heartbreaking, and reassuring.

This isn’t a post about funerals, though, at least I don’t want it to be.  It is really a post about a new world.  Imagine if, some 20 years ago, I had announced that I was fighting cancer.  The news would have spread through the, then, usual channels—phone calls, friends in bars, the occasional letter.  It would have taken weeks or months for people across the globe to learn about my new challenge, more time still to get back to me with their incredibly lovely good wishes. In this world, our new world, within 24 hours of my first post I had received so many wishes of love, kindness, and good wishes that I was practically in tears. Thanks to Facebook, people I hadn’t stood in the same room with for years were wishing me well.  Others whom I thought I knew quite well were telling me their own stories of cancer survival.  It’s all quite extraordinary.  It feels as big, warm, and caring as my dad’s funeral, and I didn’t even have to die to experience it.

As many of you know I am a brutal critic of our hyper-communicative world.   I am suspect of 24 hour cable news, Twitter, and I even refuse to repost those chain postings on Facebook.  You know the ones, “if you post this thing about God, or brothers, or sisters, or mothers you’re a good egg and something good will happen to you.” I think that these kinds of developments have cheapened society, stripped our world of depth, and turn almost all efforts at sincerity into mere bumper sticker slogans.  But the overwhelming kindness and decency I experienced in response to my first post, has got me thinking that social network may be more social than I think, more empathetic, capable of greater depth and of conveying true connection.

Perhaps I have conflated the media with the message.  The problem may not be Facebook or Twitter (though I’m still not sure about that one) but the empty and meaningless things we choose to talk about.  We’re often in a race to see who can say the snarkiest thing about the crappiest politician, or tumblr post, to post some ironic statement on a YouTube video of kittens, to say something funny about bacon, or, as I often do, to ironically comment on our failing football teams.  Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is fun, but let’s face it, it hardly suggests that Facebook or even the blogosphere is the best means of in-depth communication.  But the response to my first post suggests to me that people (or at least my Facebook friends) will rise to the level of discourse in front of them, and flood a needy soul with love, support, and kindness.  Thanks to all of you, and an unexpected finding of lymphoma, I am a little less cynical than I used to be.  Wow!


2 Responses to “Empathy, Sympathy, and Decency in the New Millennium”

  1. Chrisi Bonchick October 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    🙂 An un-cynical Erik? That puts a smile on my face…who knew that possibility existed? Glad we were able to find out!

    And btw…even though we have not been in the same room for years, the times we did share over the many years we have known each other created the connection that lasts through to today. Thankful FB has allowed us to share the joy of Emma’s Bat Mizvah and many other milestones along the way. I remember when you did not know what direction you were headed, to ‘see’ your passion unfold and come to fruition as you completed your doctorate was a truly exciting even though we only saw it from afar.

    Sending love and wishes for many good things for you all! Hugs to Amy (don’t want to leave her out of all this love!)


  2. Tim Decker October 23, 2013 at 2:32 am #

    That’s an interesting thought Erik. If this had happened to you 20 years ago I probably wouldn’t even have been aware of it. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with you on FB, occasionally debating, reminiscing, and grousing about football and I wouldn’t choose to be unaware of your situation even if I could. But…. and this vamps on your post about So Much Friggin Cancer, Im aware that was about your family and cancer runs thru my family as well…I too have the feeling that cancer is all around us like a presence and I think at least some of that is due to the fact that Im more connected to my older friends and some of their challenges than I might have otherwise been 20 years ago say… Anyway…Im rambling now. I think about you a lot these days.

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