The Drug of Pathos

I am left handed. Learning to use scissors in kindergarten was hard. Even when they had accommodations for my special needs, the lefty scissors were loosely connected, wobbly tools with bare metal fingerholds that dug uncomfortably. I probably shortened my baseball coach’s lifespan during his attempts to teach me to bat left handed. Our relationship was strained over my “otherness.”

The mouse is always on the right side of the computer, the gear shift is always on the right side of the car, the microwave and fridge handles are always on the left side of the appliance (better for righties), even our English writing system is discriminatory to people like me, because of its left to right dictates. I spent my grammar school years with graphite and pen ink all over the side of my hand. I’ll probably get cancer from it and die an untimely death.

You want to talk about systematic, institutional oppression? I’ll show you what it looks like up the side of my left hand.

Science is against me.  Left handed people have all sorts of studies suggesting that they’re a higher risk group for all sorts of things, including substance abuse and, you know, untimely death.

Religion is against me. Where do the righteous end up? On the right hand of God.

Society is against me. We shake hands and eat finger foods with the right hand. The left hand is for…Toileting. The left hand is unclean, less than.

History is against me-left handedness was long seen as a sign of moral and intellectual backwardness, it was a flaw to be corrected. And we suffered for it.

I am a victim.

What can I do with this victimhood?

I can make it a platform. Bring awareness to the issue. I can unite with my lefties the world over on websites and forums, telling my woes and drinking up their rage on my behalf like a sweet wine. I can listen to others, even more downtrodden in their tales of lefty discrimination, and let their stories of gross injustice fuel my own rage against the oppressive reign of right handedness that fails to make space for us, to appreciate our differences and accommodate us in our victimhood.

I can lobby Congress, march in parades, make my primal, anguished cry heard the world over. My pain, and the pain of my people, are real!

I can do all of this and more.

These are not necessarily the worst ways to go about being left handed, and in seeking out equality for myself and other left handed people. But in choosing this path, I find a lot of gnarled roots waiting to trip me up.

The biggest trap awaiting me is an emotional addiction to pathos.

Under the banner of love for lefties, I risk building a festering animosity to the oppressive other 90% of the population, even those righties who call themselves my allies. And the ignorant, hateful ones who aren’t my allies? I cannot tolerate them. They need to be sanctioned, silenced, contained, reformed.

I risk developing a habit of exhausting my emotional strength without even leaving the comfort of my home, without my eyes leaving the entrancing glow of my phone, without even saving anywhere near enough of that emotional wherewithal for my family, my community. It’s spent, spent on having Feelings. I’m not saying these feelings are silly. They’re big, real, legitimate Feelings, about my very real struggles, and the struggles of my people. But they’re still feelings, and they’re taking up room. How much room?  What’s more, in light of real people in my life, how much room do these feelings deserve?

My outrage, and perhaps even my social media posts on this grievous injustice are not as world changing as if I had spent that energy on my left handed (and maybe even my right handed) family and friends. Or on celebrating the accomplishments of left handed people who have long gone unrecognized. Or on improving my left handed batting skills. Or in volunteering at a non profit left handed scissors factory.

I run the risk of becoming a slave, and not to righties. Addicted to pathos as I am, anyone with the right rhetorical inclination, anyone who can get me high on pathos will own me, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. I may even elect them president.

My experience as a lefty is real. My pain as a lefty is real. But what I do with that pain matters.   I can put it into the internet emotional bank and hungrily, habitually let it accumulate compound hurt-feelings interest. I can become self righteously, wantonly addicted to the emotional high that comes with reading other’s stories of oppression, and reflecting on my own pain, revisiting all the old wounds and picking them raw, over and over for the familiar, addictive sting.

Raw, live, and wriggling, my pain will eventually become more powerful than me. It will enslave me, control me, all while convincing me that these outraged highs are in my best interest, for my own empowerment, for my truest showing of compassion for the oppressed.

I will come to love this high, love this outrage so much that little else can make me happy. The pathos high doesn’t make me really happy either, but it HURTS SO GOOD. So I keep going there. I feed it with op-eds and tears and clenched jaws and furrowed brows.

It can drive so deep into my soul that it can drive a wedge in my friendships, in my family relationships. Even those who say they understand or care don’t, not really. No matter how good their intentions, they’re lefty haters on the inside. Even if they’re lefties, this is the case. The special name for that is internalized leftyhatership.

I do not want this addiction. I care, I care deeply about the plight of the left handed, but the path of caring has turned into a straight and narrow sideroad to zealothood and misery. How can I care without being addicted to the pain that comes with caring? How can I care without creating more negativity?

Or perhaps, I can take my pain and bury it, let it compost in the ground. This is not a burial to deny the pain, or to say it is not legitimate, but a burial to make it into something useful. Buried and rotted, mixing with the elements, it becomes useful and fertile and quietly alive, changed in a way that all the sharpened teeth and primal rage in the world cannot understand.

I don’t want to be a slave and therefore I must become master of my pain. When I bury it, it is no longer nagging me, pulling at my sleeve every time I scroll through my phone, compelling me to read another story clamoring and wailing the sadness I already know, compounding my own anger and driving it deeper into my heart. No, buried pain is still there, but it is now my tool, not my master. I can feel its pulse below ground, and I stop to listen on occasion. I didn’t bury it to forget or erase it. I buried it so I can make it work with me, for me.

I buried it because I have faith that once it has mellowed and cooled, once its hot-blooded pulse has calmed to the quiet yet thoroughly intense work of decomposition, it will become something tempered, even, something rich in kindness and understanding, not only for my comrades in victimhood, but for the whole human race. Real understanding, not check-your-privilege understanding or you-poor-thing understanding. Just plain, simple, you’re-a-person-and-so-am-I understanding.

Terrible-things-happened-but-we’re-all-going-to-be-OK/healed/forgiven/redeemed understanding.

This understanding is not something that slows the work of social justice; it’s the something that make the changes I want sustainable in the long term.

Composted pain, I come to find, makes excellent soil for compassion vineyards.

And compassion, real compassion,  will grant us recognition, will set the stage for real and genuine parity.

Isn’t that what we wanted and needed all along?


The End

(NOTE: my beta reader was concerned this exposition on left handedness may either be taken seriously, or worse, be seen as a way to make light of people facing even greater difficulty. To avoid confusion, please note that it is neither meant to solicit pity or activism for us lefties, or to make light of even more difficult circumstances, but to serve as a framework for an idea. If I had more patience, I’d figure out how to work this in to the actual blog post less explicitly. Are there so many, bigger things to worry about than left handed discrimination? Oh yes. Do they effect you? Yep. Do they effect me? Yep. But whether it’s an issue of race or gender or identity of any sort, this is applicable. Which is why I wrote it.)



One thought on “The Drug of Pathos”

  1. interesting thoughts. I like the analogy of composting. I need to write more. Reading your posts is reminding me what a great tool writing is for organizing our thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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