“If you don’t care, why are you doing all this?”
This is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately, both in person and online. I’ve been overlooking it for a while, but since it keeps coming up I figure it’s time to address it.
The reason I’ve been reluctant to answer this question is because it frustrates me. As a sociopath, it’s hard for me to empathize with others. From my perspective, the answer to this question is obvious – not only because I live it, but because I’ve explained it in different ways a thousand different times. I don’t understand why people don’t get it.
That’s when I remember that not everyone is a sociopath. Most of my friends aren’t sociopaths and and many of those who read this website aren’t either. If people are not understanding me, it’s because I am not doing a good enough job explaining myself. With that in mind, here goes:
If I don’t care, why am I doing all this? Because I’ve learned to care.
I am a sociopath. What this means is that I am biologically wired to experience things like remorse, emotion, and empathy, but I have a hard time learning how.
Imagine two kids, both coming to their first tennis lesson. One kid is an obvious prodigy. He picks up the raquet and is immediately comfortable with the swing. He hits most of the balls and has the spacial recognition to correct his mistakes. He’s a pro in the making.
The other kid isn’t so lucky. He swings and misses repeatedly. He trips over the ball. His hand/eye coordination is terrible and he’s very clumsy. Both kids are physically capable of learning to play tennis properly, it’s just that the second kid is going to need a lot more lessons. I am the second kid in this analogy – only instead of sucking at tennis, I am a sociopath.
When I was a child, I didn’t have an inherent sense of good and bad. I was what they referred to as “difficult to socialize.” Concepts of shame and guilty were not hard wired. I wasn’t born to care. I had to learn to care. It took a great deal of practice, but I got better and better and today you can hardly tell that I’m not just like everybody else. Make no mistake, however, I still have to work at it.
Learning to empathize is like learning another language. I am a big fan of language in general and am fluent in more than one. When I am visiting another country, I always try and learn at least some of the native tongue before I leave. But full immersion in a foreign voice is tough, no matter how fluent you are.
I notice that my brain starts to short-circuit by the end of the day when I am traveling and speaking another language. By the time the sun goes down I don’t care about language anymore. I’m tired and I just want to be understood without effort. That is how I live every day as a sociopath in a pro-social world.
If I shift into neutral, I don’t give a shit about anything ever. And that’s fine for me. It’s comfortable. But you don’t get anywhere in neutral, and I’m someone who likes to be on the move. So I learn to speak the language.
Some days are harder than others. I’ve noticed when I’m tired, I’m more sociopathic. When I’m overwhelmed, my behavior becomes troublesome. I’m just like anyone with a shortfall: practice is hard and if other areas of your life are lacking, your game is going to suffer. That’s when I take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s worth it.
Why do I do all this if I don’t care? Because I’ve learned to care. I taught myself to care – about this particular cause. I may not have empathy for much else and my current emotional stamina could still use some work, but I remember what it was like to be vacant, alone and dangerous.
I know what I am capable of and what others like me are capable of. I know if I don’t care, no one else will. People will suffer and the problem will only get worse. It’s worth it for me to care. I found something I am passionate about and used it to build a bridge to empathy. I discovered a solution. I am living proof that it is possible for sociopaths to empathize. We can do it. All it takes is a little practice.