The Empathy Broadcast

by J. Tobias Beard

The writer David Rakoff died August 9th of cancer. In a 2011 New York Times essay, he talked about how awkward it is when people try and comfort the sick and dying. He ended the piece with this beautiful paragraph on “the empathy broadcast.”

“We like to think that the empathy broadcast with the swooping, downward intonation of the “aaawwww” is an evolutionary comfort; something we are programmed to welcome and offer freely ourselves. As a comment on something that has already happened, it probably works. But as an anticipatory tool, it does not soften the blow, indeed it does the opposite. It leaves you exposed, like grabbing onto the trunk of a tree for support in a storm only to find the wood soaked through and punky and coming apart in your hands. The sweetest bedtime-story delivery is no help when the words it delivers are a version of ‘…and behind this door is a tiger. Brace yourself.'”

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