It was the winter of 1994 when I was saw one of the most disturbing and humorous Seinfeld episodes. The episode was called, Fire. At the climax of the program, a fire breaks out in the kitchen of George’s girlfriend. George yells, “Fire!” As he barges through the kitchen, shoving kids and an elderly woman, to be the first one out.
Self-absorbed and narcissist themes were the core of the Seinfeld show. Viewers observed things from Jerry stealing a loaf of marble rye bread, from an elderly woman, to Elaine being denied a square of toilet paper as she sat in the next stall with no toilet paper.
Other shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep have shown how the unconscious narcissist creates unimaginable hurt, disappointment, and pain to fulfill their selfish needs. Whether it be a youth getting his head blown off in Pulp Fiction or doves getting accidentally killed by Jerry Seinfeld, people are entertained by someone else’s pain.
We watch, and feel the adrenaline rush, as our favorite team dominate the competition, but are torn when we experience excitement and joy when the opposing team’s player becomes injured. Therefore, we are entertained.
We watch as a 91-year-old Mexican man gets beaten.
We watch as a woman is chastised for wearing a Puerto Rican flag.
We watch as an unarmed black man was shot ten times by police.
We watch as Immigrant children cry out and wonder if they will see their parents.
We watch as our leaders put themselves and their agenda before us.
Are you not entertained?
Are you feeling guilty?
Are you conflicted?
On the one hand, we are entertained by the suffering of others, and on the other, we feel empathy, and a bit guilty, for laughing, judging or not reacting at all. But, this is the conflict of life’s tragicomedy. Therefore, we must seek to understand the numbness conceived from an overabundance of tragedy and the comfort we seek through entertainment.
Numbness Affects Our Ability to Connect
Many people describe emotional numbness as being in a vacuum. It is as if all feelings and emotions have been erased. You feel disconnected to yourself and those around you.
Numbness Affects Our Ability to have Compassion
When we can’t connect to our emotions, we can’t access our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons assist us in navigating the feelings of others and are the key to tapping into empathy and compassion.
Numbness Affects Not Only Our Health, But The Health of Our Society
According to the HeartMath Institute when we repress our emotions, due to the stress and anxiety of society, there is an increased risk for depression and disease.
When numbness to someone else’s pain creates separation, we have reached a crucial point in our evolution. And while remaining separate results in a loss of community, it also creates a loss of self. Therefore we must ask ourselves if we are ready to move beyond the entertainment of someone else’s suffering.
Where is the line between entertainment and having empathy for someone else’s pain?
According to Stephen Mason, Ph.D., who wrote How We Love To See Others Suffer, in Psychology Today, believes it is a human trait. He stated:
the observing others pain allows us to get close to humiliation, to danger, to abject terror and yet walk away clean.
Observing the suffering also creates a separation. Separation based on the human survival instinct of tribalism.
Our tribal motivated society sides with people who are like us, in our group, or part of our team. It is a survival mechanism that dates back thousands of years.
According to studies in Neuroeconomics, using an empathy-for-pain paradigm, soccer fans expressed increased empathic concern for suffering members of their favorite soccer team compared to members of the rivalry team.
This is why we see lack of empathy from Conservatives towards any perceived “liberal” agenda or Democrats towards Conservatives. We see it in religious, racial, and sexual battles. We even see it hierarchal struggles within the workplace.
We were entertained as we watched the funeral of John McCain. And we felt the struggle as our mind tried to label and our heart tried to feel. We saw the pain and sadness of his family and heard the eulogies from past Presidents. Yet our mind continued its quest to search for patterns. Patterns from our programing. Patterns that keep us separated.
Each of us has acquired a survival kit to help us maneuver our lives. It contains behaviors and beliefs that influence our perceptions. While these perceptions are subconscious, it affects our ability to connect and see the bigger picture.
If entertainment reinforces our unconscious biases and patterns, it is time we step away and observe. Through detached observation, we can step out of our mind and into our hearts. We surrender to cooperation, harmony, and love. When we are in this place we aren’t numb, we feel.
It is a challenge to move from the familiarity of numbness to feeling. However, when we begin the path of understanding another person’s thoughts, feeling, and concerns from their point of view, we erase separation with compassion.
When we journey through sympathy, empathy and arrive at compassion, we can witness suffering without getting lost in the hurt.
It is here where suffering stops being entertaining and becomes a bridge for connection.