The death of Neil Armstrong led me to a topic I haven’t thought about before: sadness.
Although I have neither witnessed the moon landing on TV nor have I held any special interest in his person I felt very sad upon hearing the news that he died yesterday. Just for the symbolic meaning he had for me by being someone who brought space within our reach. I seem to be very susceptible to “great” tragedies but less so to actual empathetic pain. I am more stirred to tears by scenes of betrayal, sacrifice and loss of intellectual/cultural treasures than by witnessing personal loss (by someone I don’t know).
Sadness is one of these emotions that I have to look at for a while to understand what it is that I am feeling. I have difficulties differentiating very strong emotions. They rush over me and I have to wait until the strongest flux is over to be able to understand what it actually was. Before that it is just positive or negative. I still have trouble to tell anger and sadness apart. If I cry, it is sadness but I’m not sure how to categorise them if I don’t cry. But there will be more on that in the next post.
Reflecting about death, the cause for my sadness is usually not personal loss in any way but the extinction of life. If I see an animal by the side of the road that has been hit by a car I can mourn for days simply because it died. Whenever I am confronted with a situation like this, I have to shield myself from thinking about all the other (animal) lives which are extinguished every second – I exclude natural cycles of prey/predators in this because that is meant to be, but human causes do not count as “natural prey/predator cycle” except if the animal was hunted for meat or other life keeping purposes – because I would carry myself into mourning for all of them and there would probably be no end to that.
My empathy for animals is far greater than that for humans. I can only speculate that this is because I attribute the capability of governing ones own fate to human beings – within limits – and because I relate to animals usually on a more instinctive and emotional level and to humans (if at all) on a rational and cognitive level. When I am confronted by human suffering I start analysing the causes, the symptoms, the connections. If I see an animal suffering, I just empathise. I feel its pain, fear and confusion.
Exempt from this are people that mean something to me. I relate to them on an emotional level but I am unable to extend this relation to others although I know that they, too, have children, parents or friends that can feel loss and pain as I do.
Today I found a good example for this differentiation between empathy towards humans and empathy towards animals. There were two small articles in our newspaper. The first one was a report about a construction worker who had been killed because the counterweight concrete blocks of a construction crane fell on top of him. My first thoughts were about what malfunction might have caused this and how this incident would be handled by the company or insurances. The second article described that an animal owner found out that someone had sneaked into their garden at night to cut off their rabbits’ ears. I felt so angry and hurt. In this situations I wish for some counterbalancing force of justice that sees to restore equity. But I know that is not so. Probably.
Maybe their energy will be transferred to a less hospitable place in the universe once they died.