(Non) Obligatory Psychopaths

In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, I see this news headline:

“A Turkish Father Refused To Let Go Of His Dead 15-Year-Old Daughter’s Hand”

And almost instantly, my eyes fill with tears.

“Of course, he didn’t!” I whisper to myself. “Which father would?”

It’s this remarkable ability to swap ourselves out… to project ourselves into another’s heart and soul… that’s so unique and special to our race.

Hard to describe, yet easy to feel.

Empathy is an elusive emotion.

A tenuous trait that we all share.

To varied degrees.

It’s the glue that holds together a fragile fabric of society.

The throbbing heart of our collective consciousness.

One that pumps the milk of human kindness – all across a humane network.

It’s also why we react to a lack of it with such horror, shock and disgust.

Because psychopaths can wreck the foundations of our peaceful co-existence.

Sometimes, though, we’re forced to don a psychopath’s cloak.

When my daughter was a baby, I found the very thought of her being jabbed with a needle terribly painful.

And yet, in the course of my work, I stuck a knife into someone else’s baby… to cut and fix her heart!

That paradox surely counts as a form of psychopathy.

But an unwilling, enforced, coercive version of it.

Too much empathy, under those circumstances, isn’t good.

It might even affect the outcome of a life-threatening procedure.

And risk losing a child’s life.

So I wore a mask.

For my emotions.

And functioned professionally.

Maybe I’ll coin a term for us folks…

Obligatory psychopaths.

Politicians and national leaders may be other examples.

They vote for more fighter jets and tanks to be deployed in Ukraine’s war against Russia, knowing that it could kill dozens… even hundreds.

And yet, they also realize they should suppress a natural empathy – in order to keep our world safer.

Obligatory psychopaths are a necessary evil!

It’s only when psychopaths go nuts – and veer out of control – that we shudder and shiver in anxiety and disgust.

Like some of our favorite movie villains.

The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight‘.

Or Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs‘.

Or the guy with a shotgun in ‘No Country for Old Men‘ – who lets a coin toss decide if his victim lives or dies.

And real life versions of them…

Like a nut-job over in North Korea.

Or other less known but no less feared crazies, worldwide.

These are virulent, dangerous psychopaths.

I guess there isn’t much we can do about them.

Other than be watchful.

And try to overwhelm them all…

By invoking our own empathy.

Let it shine through. In every interaction. With our fellows inhabitants of this planet.

And let our eyes brim with unshed tears…

Even if only for a victim we’ve never met, or never will.

Even one who lives halfway across the world.

After all, we are all together.

One for all.

And all for one.