We could probably all agree that sympathy is a good thing. But maybe we’re not looking carefully enough.
If we have sympathy for ourselves given the wrongs committed against us by others, by God, or by biology, we prolong and exacerbate our condition. Does that contribute to our pleasures in life?
If troubles are perverse, then sympathy for those who have troubles is even more perverse. Here’s the thought model behind this: Our troubles expand to accommodate the well of sympathy ready to be lavished upon them.
After all, our physical problems seem to increase exponentially at the same rate as the palliatives for them. Why wouldn’t the same be true for our feelings?
Even though the correlations are clearly there, this may not be the case. But it does remain the case that the more we dwell upon our own or others’ illnesses or infirmities, the more we keep their miseries alive and even growing.
To sympathize with a person or a people because they are in misery and are not happy is to choose what can’t be chosen. We merely enhance their pain by talking about it in public, making it thereby more real. This is surely a primary example of the law of unintended consequences. As Abraham Heschel said, what is required is not sympathy, but action.
-Lee Thayer, Thought-Leader, Excerpt from Doing Life: A Pragmatist Manifesto