The answer is “an absence of education.”
A high school teacher once asked me how I imagined Hell. I said, “Not being funny.” She replied, “Well, I guess you’re there now.”
I don’t know why that stuck with me, but it did. That and other embarrassing moments float in and out of my mind on a regular basis. The thoughts that make me smile are, at best, elusive.
If there’s one activity I’ve mastered, it’s diminishing my success.
I didn’t go to my college graduation ceremony. As a child, I never understood the purpose of celebrating accomplishments in that way. My father taught me that it was a waste of time, another uncomfortable hour spent with strangers. And in time, I forgot that I did graduate.
I got a degree in economics, with honors, and accomplished something only 31% of Americans manage. But unlike most of those Americans, I’m not proud of what I’ve done. If anything, the reality of being a college graduate with no debt makes me ashamed of myself.
I grew up surrounded by smart kids. My elders told me to be more like them. They were great at math, and I wasn’t. But I was so smart - my lack of proficiency with numbers had to be due to laziness. And then there was my poor performance in sports, which had to be some sort of oversight on my part. Again, probably laziness. I mean, look at all of the other kids… they knew how to throw a football or get the square root of 176 in their heads.
Yet I never enjoyed math. I never improved at sports.
My snarky comments and bad jokes are how I hid my fear of inadequacy and discomfort. Empathy is ineffectual without education. And without humanity, I don’t understand why I exist.
Attempts at humor can hide it, but an absence of compassion is how I imagine my own private Hell.
Why is it then that I find it so hard to be sympathetic to my own self?