I started to write this blog post into my notebook at lunchtime today, meaning to finish it on my train journey home. Instead, I wrote an email and read my book, and now I'm at home and my notebook is in my bag....I'm just starting afresh. I'm not really sure why I felt the need to share that with you, but it has been a long day!
Anyway, on with the business of this blog. I had a bit of a break between finishing reading Being Committed and starting something new (which I did on the train this evening, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters for the Sew Make Believe book club. So far I like it a lot!) and I fell to thinking about making connections between what I have been reading, and what Nic has been reading, and life in general. Nic has been reading lots of comics recently, he's been enjoying finding and reading Batman Adventures (the comic version of Batman: The Animated Series) and Will Eisner's The Spirit. It's made me think about heroes, and superpowers, and so I asked myself if I was going to have a superpower, what would it be?
(I feel obliged to point out at this point that neither Batman nor The Spirit actually have superpowers. It's what makes them such interesting figures, I think)
I decided that my superpower, if I could have one, would be a heightened sense of empathy. I know it isn't as whizzy as the power of flight, or of being able to hypnotise people or anything else really cool, but I think that it would probably have more satisfying practical application in everyday life. Nic and I are unashamed geeks, and we're both partial to a bit of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even though I like the character quite a lot, I can never resist taking the piss out of Deanna Troi.
"People come to talk to you about things they want to reveal. As ship's counselor you have to get them to talk about things they don't want to reveal"
For those of you that aren't enormous geeks like me, Troi is the ship's counsellor on board the Enterprise. She is half human and half Betazoid, and is an empath. I take the piss out of her mainly because her contribution is often risible - "I sense you feel angry" but I think it is really interesting that a character like this exists in the programme. She's a prominent character as well, she sits on the bridge next to the Captain as one of the ship's senior staff. And even though I take the piss out of her all the time, I think she is an interesting character, and I am envious of her (fictional) empathic abilities.
Of course, having a heightened sense of empathy wouldn't be all plain sailing. It would be tiring, for one thing, to be so aware of the emotional state of everyone around you. It would be difficult when dealing with people who are, for whatever reason, attempting to hide how they are feeling - do you allow them to continue to pretend, or do you draw them out? This would become even more complicated if you were dealing with someone who was suppressing or hiding feelings of hostility about you. That said, that's usually fairly obvious even without a Betazoid's empathic skills!
I think that there would be obvious benefits, however, to this. I am constantly feeling self-conscious in social situations and like I'm not quite adapting to situations in the desired way. A better idea of what the people around me were really feeling and thinking would remove some of this anxiety. I would be able to be a better friend, more attuned to what my friends are thinking and feeling, and what they need from me.
There would be some other, less fluffy perks to it. It would probably make it easier to do things like haggle, or gamble - you could be a whizz at poker if you could see past the poker faces! I suppose that would qualify as using your powers for evil, rather than for good.
I have rambled a little bit off topic here, sorry about that. The point is, though, that empathy isn't a superpower. Maybe this is why I take the piss out of poor old Troi so much, it's a skill that you can develop. It is possible to be more empathetic, I want to get better at it. The heroine in Anna Maxted's Being Committed gradually becomes more empathetic over the course of the novel, as she gets to understand herself better she gains a better understanding of those around her. It isn't always that straightforward, and one of the reasons why this has been in my mind recently has been the realisation that my understanding of the motives of the people around me isn't what it could be, and I have made a few serious mistakes because of this. I want to get better at reading people and understanding what they are feeling, partly so that I can be a better person myself, and partly because I don't want to keep repeating the same mistakes. So, you know, if you can acquire and develop a superpower, that is the one I want to be working on.
Now, that was very meandering, my apologies. It has been one of those weeks! Nic is in the process of making me dinner, so I'm away now to eat that, and then maybe to watch some more Doctor Who: Inferno. I rock, don't I?!
Evil "Brigade Leader" Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. What a dude!