Empathy Club

Turtle on its back with cooling towers in the background

As someone who applies humor to deal with difficult situations in their own life, sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s inappropriate/insensitive to make certain jokes in public. But even someone (like me) who barely passes the voight-kampff test knows that you’d better triple-check your judgment before attempting humor related to the recent tragedies in Japan or the massacres that have been taking place in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Part of the difficulty for me is that epic disasters just don’t seem real–especially when there’s video. It’s simply too outlandish for it to possibly be true. Yes, my eyes and ears take it all in, but my brain sends it straight to the “fantasy” bin, where it settles in alongside the destruction of Alderaan and talking dogs selling baked beans.

That’s terrible, I know. Even after successfully holding my tongue, and donating to disaster relief, I still feel shitty about the jokes percolating in my head. I mean, I know that flesh-and-blood people are actually suffering and dying as I sit at my keyboard eating Cheez Its, yet I often don’t feel a damned thing (Real Cheese satisfaction does not count.)

But I have a plan to trick my brain into directly relating to distant human suffering. And if you suffer from the same dyspathy-with-a-side-of-disaster-fatigue, I invite you to try my new simple remedy: every time I see footage from or hear about a horrific non-fictional event taking place, I will punch myself.

In the face? Well, it depends. I’m still ironing out the kinks, but the amount of self-inflicted pain will be proportionate to the scale of the disaster:

  • Celebrity or politician dies prematurely: wrist smack.
  • Drunk driver kills a pregnant woman: punch on the arm (bicep)
  • Bus full of school children plummets off a cliff: punch to both arms.
  • Mining accidents and engineering disasters (bridge collapse, etc.): punch to the gut.
  • Act of terrorism or serial killing (small amount of casualties): punch to both arms and to the gut.
  • Act of terrorism or serial killing (mass casualties): one face punch.
  • Natural disaster (earthquake, tsunami, etc.) ravages large populated areas: one crotch punch.
  • Wide-scale war/Massacres/”Ethnic Cleansing”: one face punch per 20,000 deaths.
  • Total nuclear meltdown resulting in mass death and casualties, and necessitating the abandonment of hundreds or thousands of square miles for many, many years: same as above, with addition of one crotch punch per 40,000 deaths and for every 50 square miles of territory despoiled.

Amount of force used for each punch should be adjusted in accordance with the severity of the event within each category. If more than one category applies, all applicable punishments should be administered, escalating from least severe to most.

Like I said, the punishment matrix is still under development, and your own list should be tailored for your pain tolerance and recuperative capacity. For example, I have an unusually high platelet count, so if your own blood chemistry is more typical, you might want to scale back on any of the prescribed actions that could create “wet” wounds.

It may seem clinical, but my hope is that the Punch Plan will spark transformations in the empathy-averse, starting with me. Kind of like Fight Club for the callous, except that you can (and should!) tell everyone about it. I firmly believe that our species’ capacity for emotional connection is one of its more constructive characteristics, and through it I wish to some day be an exemplar of humanity’s more noble side. And Empathy Club’s Punch Plan could be the key.

So if after the next world-scale calamity I run into you at a show or on the street and you’re covered in bruises, you won’t have to say a word. I’ll know just from looking that you’re on the path with me, heading towards real humanity, one punch at a time.

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