Monday, September 06, 2010

"Think of me what you will/I've got a little space to fill."

The Song: "You Don't Know How it Feels," Tom Petty. Words and music by Tom Petty. Track 2 of Wildflowers, 1994.
How/when acquired: Purchased CD (used), c. 1997
Listen/watch here.

Tom Petty's an underrated giant of American music, in part because of his uncanny ability to distill complex truths into simple lyrics. "You don't know how it feels to be me," he says, and that's as true as it gets. But where would we be if we didn't even try?

This weekend I crossed paths with one of the handful of people I actively dislike. Dislike is an emotion that surprises and unsettles me. I'm not a particularly benevolent person, but disliking someone takes energy that I don't usually want to spend. It always puzzles me when I realize that my subconscious has made the leap to active dislike, when it would be so much easier just to stop paying attention.

"How would you like it?" my mother used to say when I was mean to my siblings; she taught us empathy by fair means and foul. Weirdly, I've come to the conclusion that it's this very empathy that makes me dislike people, but not in a good way. I do imagine myself in their position, and that's the problem. The people I dislike have this in common: they do things I secretly wish I could get away with. The dislike comes from a sense of outrage that they've given themselves permission to behave in ways I never would (or have, and feel guilty about).

Like every other human emotion, it has nothing to do with the other person. It's all about me. Because Tom Petty is right: I don't know how it feels to be him.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

But, better to hate him than yourself.

It's good that that you can judge another by not knowing how he feels. Empathy is overrated when someone is just evil.

-- Ed

Laura Benedict said...

Tom Petty's music is what I listen to when I want to feel teenager-young again.

Seriously, I would be afraid if you disliked me. Very afraid. :)

AnswerGirl said...

No worries, Laura! You are none of the things I dislike — not smug, not oblivious, not needy, and not determined to involve everyone around you in a constant series of artificial emergencies. (That is not a comprehensive list of my reasons for disliking people, but it's a strong start.)