Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Wonderful Short Story Collection, Part 2

     Last week I was praising the collection of early short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wind's Twelve Quarters.  One story, "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow," follows a small group of misfits as they are sent on a one-way mission to explore another world.  One of the misfits is a man who was born an empath.  Sadly, his gift is so overwhelming that he reflects others' attitudes towards him back toward them, and the result is that he is universally hated.  Here's a quote from a character explaining how that works:
"Well, you see . . . the normal defensive-aggressive reaction between strangers meeting -- let's say you and Mr. Osden just for example -- is something you're scarcely aware of; habit, manners, inattention get you past it; you've learned to ignore it, to the point where you might even deny it exists.  However, Mr. Osden, being an empath, feels it.  Feels his feelings, and yours, and is hard put to say which is which.  Let's say that there's a normal element of hostility towards any stranger in your emotional reaction to him when you meet him, plus a spontaneous dislike of his looks, or clothes, or handshake -- it doesn't matter what.  He feels that dislike.  As his autistic defense has been unlearned, he resorts to an aggressive-defense mechanism, a response in kind to the aggression which you have unwittingly projected onto him." 
And later, in response to the question, "He can't tune us out?":
"It's like hearing . . . No eyelids on your ears.  No Off switch on empathy.  He hears our feelings whether he wants to or not."
Does that feel familiar to you, dear Empath?  Hopefully, however, you have learned to be a bit more sociable than this poor character. 

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