by Jenny Potter
On entering a hospital, one can be asked to describe pain on a scale from one to ten, a comparative measure based on all pain you can remember feeling. In this system a ten is a ten, an unfamiliar yet equally valid ten when compared to any other.
Through our limited awareness, only of the self (and even the extent of that is arguable), we are desperate to create a connection to others through categorisation of communal feeling. In the words of the newly insightful Willow Smith, ‘classification and organisation is ruining the hearts of our generation’.
As an incredibly connected society, it seems to be the norm to assume that everyone experiences ‘the norm’ in every capacity, and that one archetype of experience fits all. Yet I find myself asking: is it possible ever to truly understand the perspective of another? We can try, creating clumsy scales of affection and measures of gestures, ranking his desperation or her ignorance and finding every expression of emotion wanting.
By conveying feeling we open ourselves up to a world of evaluation against other people’s personal models of behaviour; perhaps it is far easier simply and unconsciously to refuse to acknowledge sentiment. Are we really capable of empathy?
At best, we can listen as others attempt to express the inexpressible in awkward combinations of gagged language, searching for some semblance of similarity within our own understandings. At worst, we manage to justify dismissing their views as entirely irrational on the basis that they are not aligned with ours.
We try to ascribe our emotions to others and inevitably fail to find a structure that fits perfectly as we blindly refuse to recognise that different passions motivate, move and are measured by us all.
Whilst we may find comfort in the occasional similarity we happen to draw between ourselves and others, this should not be the true purpose of sentimental communication. We may seek validation in others, particularly in those we care for or feel we share common ground with, but it is only in the realisation that our own feelings are justified, purely by their existence, that we will be able to find comfort in ourselves.