Hyperempathy – Pain – Baltimore

As I finished working on my bibliographies a couple weeks ago, I narrowly beat the deadline for submission and wiped a sweat gland off my forehead right after submission. I think I am becoming more and more of a perfectionist. And though I try to control it, I wonder if that could be considered a disability wherein time is sometimes against me or rather, the environment I am in does not allow enough time? This question compelled me to reflect on Lauren’s syndrome and an article by Their Pickens.

In her article “You’re Suppose to Be a Tall, Handsome, Fully Grown White Man” Pickens suggests that “disability is only apparent if the environment makes it so” as we have done with Shori in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (36). Additionally, she underscores that in an a certain environment, the disability becomes an empowering ability as it was for Shori who is more understanding of her Ina people as well as the Humans. In regards to Parable of the Sower’s Lauren Olamina’s hyperempathy syndrome, it is not stated anywhere in the novel that she has, or sees herself as a person with disability. In fact, though literature is left up to interpretation, perhaps Butler knew that that’s what the environment and possibly her readers would do, which is to consider Lauren’s syndrome as a disability without considering it to be an empowering attribute as Pickens highlighted in her article about Shori.

 This makes me think about what Natasha said a couple weeks ago in class about Lauren’s hyperempathy syndrome being a bad thing which Lauren has validated saying “I had kill a man. He wasn’t a sharer [of pain]…pain was the evil. Death was the end of pain” (Butler 198). On the flip side, it can also be a good thing. All life is valuable and though Lauren killed a dog, she “had felt its pain” (Butler 46). She understood the dog’s pain; knew the dog’s pain. It was unbearable to the point that she had to take its life to no longer feel its aches just as she did with the man she killed.

I think humanity has a weaker level of Lauren’s syndrome (I just realized that I am categorizing Lauren, but to be clear, in the world out of the novel, we do not have a syndrome as hers. Then again, who’s to say someone else somewhere in the world might not have the syndrome or something similar to it. Earth is a vast place, so my distinction is only between us, the humans in this world and Lauren in the world of Acorn). Where hers is called ‘hyperempathy’ ours is simply ‘empathy.’ And though as Natasha said “it can be bad thing… people can manipulate you,” I do contend that having the power to protect yourself can prevent you from being manipulated a little bit which I see implicated through two quotes.

The first is by Jon Van Goethe as quoted in 48 Laws of Power by John S. Ryan “the only means to gain one’s ends with people are force and cunning. Love also, they say, but that is to wait for sunshine; life needs every moment.” The ‘every moment’ I would say is the moment to learn what your weakness is and learn what can hurt you while you improve upon that weakness which is implied by the next quote from a  Ted Talk video How to spot a liar by Pamela Meyer.  She quotes a deceased con-man in Europe named Henry Overlander. Overlander’s only rule was that “everyone is willing to give you something… for whatever it is that they are hungry for.” In other words, if you know your weakness, it would be quite hard to be fooled because you know how to counter an argument that attacks your weakness. The manipulator would be depending on cunning you as Van Goethe says “is the way to one’s ends.” If you know you are being tricked, as a good person, you can counter-trick and do right by the trickster by sincere cunning. And yes, it is easier said than done. One of the greatest tricksters in our society are teachers – some good and some not so good. In fact, everyone is a teacher. Power is not so easily attainable so one will have to use what one has to both allow one’s self to empathize entirely while being able to see through the manipulations of another person thus feeling the pain of another without worrying about being tricked.

As I return to the syndrome of Lauren and her experiencing of others’ pain, it is not so easy to handle as I will try to connect to an anime character.

Naruto is a Japanese anime centering extensively, but not entirely, on ninjas and clans continually fighting for “peace.” Import character info: Pain is a dead body that is controlled by a man named Nagato who is the real victim of this part of the Naruto series. He is able to manipulate dead bodies, one of which is Pain (originally named Yahiko). Yahiko was a very close friend of Nagato. ‘Nagato and Naruto (the main protagonist of the anime) are from the same clans.’

Nagato’s clan was wiped out by the constant fighting in the Ninja world, including his friend Yahiko. Thus he created Pain and controls this body from behind the scenes. ‘His consciousness is relayed through Pain.’

Pain connects with the goodness and badness of Lauren’s Hyperempathy Syndrome and the riots happening in Baltimore. Below is a statement he relays to Naruto, as he reflects on the killing of the people in his clan by other ninjas.

“You think you’re the only ones who matter. You think you can put off death. But that peace made you foolish and thoughtless. If you kill someone, someone else will kill you… this hatred binds us together.”

Pain’s statement emphasizes that a world, where people are continually fighting for peace and love, cannot come to fruition unless they understand each other’s struggle. For Lauren, understanding another’s pain is tenfold. If it is someone she deeply cares about, I doubt she would kill the person if that person was hurting (let’s consider Bankole here). But unlike the man who she did not care for, she killed him because the pain he already had was excruciating and she felt the exact same pain as he did. However, her care for him was not as deep-seated as it is for Bankole and the people she has created a relationship with. On the other hand, she understood what he (the killer) was going through and that is what I think we need to do for others with the ‘empathy’ we have. We are capable to empathize, to work toward understanding others’ pain. We do not have to have the syndrome, but I do think that those who really empathize feels very close to what Lauren feels and as a result, we do the things we do for them (being supportive, loving, caring, making sacrifices and so forth). Following Goethe’s and Overlander’s words can make us stronger. Should someone try to trick a person, it would not affect that person so much that a need to create a shield for themselves is evoked.

To connect to Baltimore, some in the ninja world from Naruto can be seen as the oppressive police officers and others can be seen as the people of Baltimore fighting for peace.  From Pain’s perspective, he is the people of Baltimore. “You can’t ‘put death off,’” the death of the black being as if it was nothing. “Your peace (to the cops) made you thoughtless” to hurt others. As a viewer, I look at Naruto as the hero, but he is the conflicted police officer at the same time in my eyes as I think about the riots in Baltimore. While his friends would like to attack Pain with the violence he has been attacking them with, Naruto tries to find a way to talk to Pain without violence. But Pain refuses to listen because of the years of brutality upon is clan which has been eradicated. And so I say this “a continued attack on the black body and black mentality is destined to cause a revolt. When a revolt of violence occurs one cannot expect the oppressed to be peaceful after trying to be peaceful numerous times in the past.”

As I think about all this, I wonder if the statement “understanding begins with those who want to be understood” being considered, would allow people to thrive for the utopia Butler, Afro/Latinofuturists, and many other people think is necessary for a better world? I think this is worth contemplating.

An episode of Naruto struggling to attack or refrain from attacking out of anger.

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