Empathy from the Devil

“Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.  In case you didn’t my name is Depression, and I come bearing gifts.

“Well, when I say gifts I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  These gifts won’t be filling any stockings.  No, no, no, that would be far too easy.  You’ll have to earn these gifts.  And look, I know I’m a liar and you shouldn’t believe everything I tell you, but I’m going to level with you here so you’d best be listening – these gifts are going to be worth it.

“Now, I expect this will come as scant consolation to you as you sink like a stone to the depths of your darkest ocean (sorry, I don’t mean to rub it in, let’s call it tough love shall we?).  I expect you know by now that I don’t come bearing a life jacket.  Far too easy my friend.  I can call you friend can’t I?  I don’t mean to sound sarcastic but I feel we’re getting close, in fact I think I’ve become rather attached to you.

“Anyway, like I say, no life jacket.  I’m not even going to offer you a hand to pull you to the surface.  It’s for your own good.  Really, it is.  I know, I know, that’s easy for me to say, and, like, nobody knows what you’re going through, and all you want is for somebody, anybody, to get this demon off your back (don’t worry, I don’t take it personally, sticks and stones and all that…). 

“The thing is, if you want to escape from this dark ocean and claim my gifts you’re going to need to learn how to swim.  Others can help you to learn, but they can’t swim for you.  This may sound harsh given your predicament but it won’t do you any favours to not hear the truth.  Anyway, you must know by now that the best things in life don’t come easy and you can’t truly savour victory without first having tasted defeat (Ok so Floyd Mayweather may argue with that one but if you listened to him you’d think that money was the path to fulfilment; you’re best listening to me on this one, I’m personally acquainted with many a lottery winner and know of what I speak).

“It’s down to you.  And I know exactly what you’re going to say to me now - come on, let’s hear it…. There we go, ‘I can’t’.  I.  Can’t.  If I had a £1 for every time I’d heard that.  Well, I’d be well retired by now, but where’s the fun in that?  We all need to have a purpose in life don’t we?

“See, I’m not all bad – I’m giving you a sneaky peak at one of the gifts that awaits.  Purpose.  If you could just consider that maybe, just maybe I’m giving you the opportunity to really find your purpose in life.  Plenty of people drift through life, one day blending seamlessly into the next.  But I’m showing you life from a very different perspective, and I know from experience that the view from this place can have a profound effect on those that have seen it.

“Let me give you a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche on the power of purpose,

“And what about Victor Frankl, ever heard of him?  He was a prisoner in Auschwitz.  And I’ll tell you what he noticed.  Actually, I’ll let him tell you,

“In the Nazi concentration camps, one could have witnessed that those who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfil were most apt to survive.  Those who do see meaning in their lives are able to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”

“Powerful stuff I think you’ll agree. 

“And that’s not all, here’s another gift that I’m offering you: empathy.  Or being able to understand or share the feelings of another. 

“You see, when you’ve suffered as you’re suffering it gives you an insight into the human condition that you never had before.  When you witness pain and suffering in others you can identify with it in a new and deeper way.  And you are less likely to be judgemental of others that might be struggling to cope with life, like those that use drugs to block their pain or those that find themselves homeless and beg others for money. 

“You’ll realise that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ - if you want to consider it from a religious standpoint.  If that’s not your thing then we can borrow from Elvis: you’re less likely to judge others until you ‘walk a mile in my shoes’. 

“Empathy.  What’s the point of that you may ask; feeling others’ suffering - aren’t I depressed enough already?  Well, empathy leads to another gift that I can offer you – the gift of helping others.

“I know this sounds a bit soppy for me but I meant what I said, I’m not doing this for me, this is for your benefit.  And, just to prove that I’m not making this up, here’s what Mother Teresa had to say on the matter,

“See?  I know I’m making your life a bit shit at the moment.  Ok, I’ll dispense with the false modesty, I’m dragging you to the very darkest recesses of your own personal hell – well, you don’t do what I’ve done for so long without getting to be bloody good at it. 

“But if - or rather, when - you do swim to the surface, you’ll be able to teach others to swim too.  Or at the very least show them that it is possible to swim, even when you’re in deep deep water.  And there are plenty of people out there that would really benefit from that.  You might not even realise just how many people know me, how many you could help – you know all too well how hard it is to talk to anyone about what you’re going through – but believe me, I keep myself very busy.  And like I said, I’m bloody good at what I do even if I do say so myself (well, Muhammad Ali said it isn’t bragging if you can back it up, and everyone loves him!).

“I’ll tell you what, I can see you’re having trouble believing me so let me tell you about a recent acquaintance whose story may give you a bit of hope.  This guy’s name was Matthew and we spent quite a bit of time together.  Quality time you might say.  A fucking mess he was (pardon the language and all that but really, you should have seen him).  I really did some work on him, mind you it took a bit of persistence.  I put in a couple of real good shifts – well, good for me, I can’t say he enjoyed it much – and I paid him a shorter visit before Christmas, just to check in on him and see whether he could still swim.

“It turns out he’s really grateful for my visits, although it would be remiss of me not to point out that he didn’t think much of me at the time.  And I’m pleased to say – honestly – that he loves the gifts that I left for him.  He’s even started a blog and reckons he can write a bit; apparently quite a few people have found that reading it helps them. 

“Let me tell you, if he can get through it and go on to be happy then you can do it too.  I don’t want you to ever forget that. 

“A sense of greater purpose in life, empathy and the opportunity to help others – granted they’re not the latest iPhone but the novelty soon wears off with one of them and anyway, you’d only need to change it every couple of years to make sure you’ve got the latest model.  My gifts – and these are just a few of them - can last a lifetime.  How’s that for value?

“So you see, I’m not all bad.  Am I?”

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Soundtrack: Sympathy For The Devil - The Rolling Stones

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