If you’re about to have pity for someone else, may it be a friend, a relative, an old neighbor or even a homeless person whose breath smells like acid and beer you pass by every day, don’t waste your energy. Better think twice.
Here’s why. The answers might be scattered among the following paragraphs, you might find it, nod to it or even disagree with it. But yeah, keep on reading.
It’s a four letter word, a sugar-coated emotion filled with really, uselessness. I’m sure everyone must be very familiar with it, some of us are even silently proud of having such human “quality”.
Pity: sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy. (merriam webster)
Admiration and Pity. Love is a paradox. Love is north kissing south, west married to east. If we try to dissect the concept of love, we would soon find two opposing elements evoked by the object of love: admiration and pity. In most cases, we would fall in love with someone who is able to arouse those two emotions in us. Love is all we need they say, because what human constantly wants is to seek beauty (admiration) and to feel useful (pity). When a helpless weak innocent baby is born, one can’t help but to feel pity and admiration at the same time and we call it “love”. Along the history of civilization, all we do in spreading and cultivating love is developing admiration and pity but none of us would want to see it differently, which is separated from each other. Admiration and pity need to stick together. Thus, admiration alone isn’t enough to evoke love, nor is pity alone. Absolute admiration alone would produce foolish and irrational self-sacrifice while pity alone without admiration would be like nonsense, an empty suitcase that we carry everywhere hoping for someone else to fill it up. Even worse than that.
Pity hinders justice. Kahlil Gibran once wrote that “pity is but half justice.” Pity and justice don’t go hand in hand, they never share the same bed. What’s so paradoxically irritating about this quasi-sympathy is that, it is a very self-centered act, which is in most situations, no forms of actions of any kind would ever follow the emotion for the benefit of the object of pity. Pity only benefits the subject, the one who feels it. It is savoured by the subject alone with the flavour of contentment of being grateful to be in a better position and simultaneously of preserving faith in one’s own humane quality of, sadly, being able to feel pity.
Therefore, when one loves he/she has the tendency to be lacking in capacity of being just. Being just speaks of giving what the other deserves of getting in the way that is morally fair and reasonable, be it a punishment or reward. Love (which contains admiration and pity) has been one of the main sources of injustice that occurs in the world. “Love” drives the father to welcome and hug the prodigal son as if nothing ever happened and then throws a festive celebration on the day of his return while the obedient son isn’t even given half of the affection. The lack of justice is then justified by the father by saying that his possession is already his, which does not really solve the core of the problem of injustice. Most of the time we admit that love is all we need, without having to care about being just or not. But at a particular crucial case, all we ever need is a cold fair judge to knock his hammer onto the table.
Furthermore, pity is affection without concrete act of justice, the lowest form of human self-content. A clear evidence is found in human and animal relation. There are several ways that in how we consider animals as a major yet lower part of our earth that we have all the rights to disrupt their territory and decide upon their metamorphoses. First, animals are deemed to the label of beasts, inhuman and savage in such a way that they have all the rights to remain silent and be the object of our scalpel in laboratory experimentation for the sake of science. Baudrillard in his essay The Animals: Territory and Metamorphoses formulates it as the following:
Beasts of burden, they had to work for man. Beasts of demand, they are summoned to respond to the interrogation of science. Beasts of consumption, they have become the meat of industry. Beasts of somatization, they are now made to speak the “psy” language, to answer for their psychic life and the misdeeds of their unconscious. Everything has happened to them that has happened to us. Our destiny has never been separated from theirs, and this is a sort of bitter revenge on Human Reason, which has become used to upholding the absolute privilege of the Human over the Bestial.
The human’s transgression is justified by referring to the primitive act of sacrificing animals to the gods. Basically, the outlaw isn’t about the killing of animals but of how their territory along with their privilege being trespassed according to human’s reasoning. As a matter of fact, animals used to be sacrificed not because they are low and inhuman, but because they gain a more noble position than human in the eyes of the primitives. “Once animals had a more sacred, more divine character than men” and thus “only the animal is worth being sacrificed, as a god, the sacrifice of man only comes afterward, according to a degraded order.”
And here comes the worst part. When we no longer sacrifice nor punish them, we domesticate them and somehow become proud of it. Baudrillard writes, “that we have made of them a racially inferior world, no longer even worthy of our justice, but only of our affection and social charity, no longer worthy of punishment and of death, but only of experimentation and extermination like meat from the butchery.” We simulate natural environment for them in zoos and domesticate them in homes, thinking that we save them.
So love me, but never pity me. Include your admiration in the formula. Never pity me for it won’t do me any good. It won’t benefit me. Don’t use my unfortune as a target of your contentment darts. Your pity doesn’t feed my hunger, it doesn’t warm my trembling body. When you pity me, I am nothing but a painting in the gallery that you stare at with great interest.
Pity is not compassion. Pity will make you stop walking and staring with a concerned look at a small bird lying on the ground with its broken wings. You might want to take picture of it and share it to others to evoke their pity as well. But only compassion will make you approach it, heal it and set it free flying again. Often times, compassion doesn’t have anything to do with pity. Pity keeps your hands and feet clean while compassion drives you to step into the mud. Therefore, pity only those who deserve it, those whose misery you want it to last like the painting in the gallery. But think twice first.
I pitied him in his blindness. But can I boast “I see”? Perhaps there walks a spirit close by, who pities me.”