text and photo © Jonathan Zap
The opposite of empathy is an exclusive focus on “internal considering”: — what you are feeling, what other people have done to you, how everything feels weighed by the scales of your agenda. Empathy is “external considering,” it considers what is going on in others; how others feel; how our actions (such as spoken words) may affect them. One way out of inner neurotic torment (which is always based on internal considering) is to focus on external considering. On the other hand, the ability to feel empathy for others is built on your ability to have empathy for yourself. So if that is what is being neglected, this may be a propitious time for some internal considering and to empathically focus on your inner child, shadow or other aspects of yourself that need more compassionate attention.
This card has a few layers of meaning and it is for you to discern which layers are most relevant to your present life situation. One level is about empathy and external considering. External considering, focusing compassionately on others, is of inestimable value in itself. What is often underestimated, however, is that it is one of the very few reliable short cuts out of inner neurotic torment which is always dominated by internal considering. Often people can get further lost in their own neurotic world by infinitely psychoanalyzing their childhood situations and the complexities of their present unhappiness. Sometimes the best way out of that quagmire is to focus compassionately on others, and there are always others in greater pain and need than you. And even if they are not in greater pain and need, it may be of value to occasionally focus on them instead of yourself. I made a lot of progress with my self-referential, egocentric and narcissistic personality during my fourteen years as a schoolteacher. My default state of internal considering was forced into external considering when I was in the classroom, because with 30+ high-energy kids to educate there was no possibility of drifting off into inner neurotic labyrinths. So external considering not only benefits others, it also benefits you.
In rarer cases external considering is the default state and can even become excessive because the empathic caretaker personality neglects internal considering, neglects itself as it takes responsibility for others. Sometimes this can be because the caretaker is an “old soul” — a larger, more mature being — relating to a needy, immature being. The more conscious being in a relationship has more responsibility, more response-ability, more free will. What can be especially disorienting is that the old-soul/ young-soul relationship is often in contrast to chronological age. It is not uncommon to have an old-soul child who defaults into being the caretaker of a young-adult or middle-aged parent. Since this relationship short-circuits chronological developmental roles, it may create difficult issues for the old-soul child as they grow up. It is crucial not to think of yourself as responsible for how another person feels, and to realize that unless you are an adult dealing with an infant, very small child, or profoundly disabled person, you cannot and should not lifeguard anyone. Other people are self-willed autonomous beings on their own karmic tracks, and although we can sometimes be an influence (when they happen to be receptive to influence) there is no way we can assume responsibility for what they feel and experience, nor for the consequences of their choices. The attempt to lifeguard an adult infantilizes them, sets up codependencies, and just plain doesn’t work.
Many people are lacking in external considering and would benefit themselves and others by focusing out more. A smaller group of people default into excess external considering and thereby weaken themselves and others. The appropriate dynamic boundary between self and other is, in the I Ching, called “meeting halfway.”
Consider this a propitious time to examine the dynamic balance between internal and external considering in your life.