No empathy for the rich and famous… but why?

By Demarcus Robinson Sympathy for the talented

When, if ever, will we reach a point where we can sympathize or empathize with other human beings regardless of separating factors such as class, race or religion? I wonder this because I found some reactions to be quite curious after it was announced that chronically injured Greg Oden underwent ANOTHER microfracture surgery. People who identify themselves as hoops fans showed varying levels of concern. Many were outright saddened to hear that such a likeable guy had worked his way back to the brink of playing, only to have his hopes of playing crushed once again. Others threw out tempered concern, but with the caveat that their sympathy only extended a short distance since Oden has millions of dollars. That same line of thinking gets applied to many celebrities when discussing any unfortunate event in their lives.

I think this type of attitude toward fellow human beings can be attributed to the importance placed on monetary value. Money is always a focal point in many of our lives, either in a good way or bad way. We can attribute various stressors to having a lack of funds at different points in life. I myself have witnessed this at certain points, but I now know the feeling more than ever since I am an unemployed college grad with beckoning loans. My family also hit a rough patch or two financially because of my dad’s health a few years ago. There have been other very less than desirable things to occur which I won’t go into, but if I wanted to play the “I dealt with this card”, I could. Although I could play that game with some people I choose not to do so, because it doesn’t matter. I bring this up because I feel that’s why people seem to dehumanize people like Oden (the I’ve had it worse syndrome). He has had five knee surgeries since he entered the league five years ago, and has only played in 82 of a possible 328 games. There’s a very real chance that he’ll never get the opportunity to step foot on a court again in a professional capacity. These are things that fall on deaf or partially deaf ears.

He has been paid millions of dollars, and therefore is undeserving of sympathy or empathy. He will be financially secure for the rest of his life if he properly manages his money. Heck, when he gets to retirement age he’ll draw a very solid NBA pension as well.

So why should anyone waste their time feeling sorry for a guy who will always have money in the bank?

The reason is because people like Oden or Brandon Roy, his former teammate, worked their entire lives to live out a dream. They invested countless hours trying to become something others expected them to become. Not only do they carry their own hopes and dreams, but they carry those same pieces of luggage for friends, family members, neighborhoods, coaches, front offices and fans. Being burdened with that type of weight looks pretty intense to me. A person who has to walk in those shoes must feel a level of anguish. The talent was there and the road-maps were laid in predestined fashion.When Oden neared the peak of the mountain to attain all he had dreamed of, his body repeatedly let him down. Roy on the other hand was basically at the mountain top, and enjoyed some glorious moments as a pro. The ebb and flow of the Portland Trail Blazer fan base went as he did. Ultimately his body betrayed him as well. It happened while he was trying to fortify his position at the summit, and eventually caused him to tumble from it. Once he was at the base of the mountain he wasn’t able to ascend again, and was forced to medically retire after only five seasons. Roy has millions as well, but like Oden he has the luggage that will weigh him down for a considerable amount of time.

Society as a whole tends to reclassify hardships of those in a more fortunate position as things that can be easily gotten over. Members of society weigh the rigors of their own lives against those of the aforementioned, and many times the scale is balanced in favor of the everyday Joe. Interestingly though, I have yet to find a person who uses that scale when considering someone in a worse spot in life. Sure you’ll hear someone say things could be worse, but they’re still not trivializing what’s happening in their own life. Why not do that for those who are in still developing areas of the world? Surely they have a sob story that could trump just about anything we could ever speak of. In this case we don’t weigh things as we did before with Oden and Roy because we realize that our pain is unique to our lives and it can’t be diminished. I have had tragic and near tragic instances in my life, and I discern there is undoubtedly someone who has gone through something worse. The fact that this may be the case doesn’t lessen the pain, demons, regrets and etc. that I have encountered. Another person’s story can’t truly outweigh my own and vice versa. Instead we should come to an understanding that we’re all using the same metrics. And if we’re not using the same metrics we ought to be.

Money isn’t everything and doesn’t guarantee everlasting happiness to its possessor. Yes, I would love to have more money than I currently do because it would alleviate many of the issues I must deal with. I also know that the other problems I have encountered would not be alleviated by money. I hope I can receive the same understanding during a rough spot if I were wealthy just as I would right now. If I wish for that then I should be open to empathizing with someone who is already in a position of wealth.

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