By Angela Noel
I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back Fucking sux too. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) December 29, 2017
This twitter exchange, and how the guy responded to her outreach has been shared many times over. No one necessarily needs me to comment on it or to say any more about it. But I’m going to because when this kind of beauty happens just when I’m thinking about what it means to perform radical acts of empathy, I’m pretty sure that’s a sign from the universe.
In last week’s post I talked about the importance of actions; how small things, like reading as way to expand our empathy, can have a huge impact on how we live and operate in the world. I wrote that I wanted to answer the call when it came–to stand with those most in need at the moment when they might need it.
Then Sarah Silverman popped into my world.
She could have ignored the guy, or blocked him. She could have engaged in a negative-fest of words back and forth. Maybe she could have offered a type of patronizing sympathy about how his life must be so sad to have to do this kind of thing. I’m not in Sarah’s head, so maybe she looked through his twitter feed initially to find that kind of ammunition to fire back at him. She is a comedian after all and human foibles are her stock in trade. But, in the end, what she wrote speaks of none of that. She related to him. She showed him she’s invested in his experience. She’s not apologizing to him or for him. She’s just saying, “I’m here. I get it. We’re in this together.”
And that, I think, is the essence of empathy.
Sarah Silverman, famous comedian, has power in an economic and social sense. She could crush this guy and the world would likely tell her she’s justified, and we’d all move on to the next thing. But instead she used her power to stop the ugly train. She used her empathy to learn more, to question, to meet him where he was and respond not from a position of power, but from a position of humanity.
Sure, the woman does a lot of vulgar jokes in her act, but in the end she’s making a point. That’s what art does–it gets our attention in one way or another, holding space for a new idea to sneak through. In this case, instead of trying to make us laugh, Sarah held space in a different way. By doing the work, spending the time, and trying to understand, she changed the same old combative narrative. It took effort to do this. It took self-awareness and a willingness to subvert ego towards a greater good.
Perhaps I don’t think every joke she makes is funny. But I don’t need to be a fan of her comedy to be a superfan of her humanity.
Frankly, I’m glad there’s a practitioner of radical acts of empathy in the world who makes poop jokes.
It’s going to be one heck of an interesting year.
Your Turn: What do you think of what Sarah did? How would you have responded if you’d been in her shoes?