There was a specific point in my life when I understood that I wasn’t nearly as clever as I had previously believed myself to be. This is likely not a unique phenomenon. In fact, I’m fairly confident most of us refer to this realization as “growing up.” Instead of evolutionary metaphors, I liken it to a headache stopping, because it seems to happen suddenly, but recalling the exact moment it occurred is impossible. Nonetheless, one’s condition is greatly improved after it happens.
It’s an introduction to doubt, a term that seems to possess a negative connotation for many, but for me it’s a positive governing force. It causes introspection and prompts me to take stock of my internal inventory from time to time. This is a necessity for someone who tends to develop tunnel vision that directs them toward a specific goal at the cost of everything else on the periphery.
My latest binge of self-examination began last week when my fiancé’s grandfather died. We weren’t particularly close. I had only interacted with him a handful of times. However, as a result of his death – as untimely as one’s end can be after more than 80 years of life – I spent several days around people whom I care a great deal about while they were mourning. After a dragged out process that included three separate days for a visitation, a funeral and a burial, I began to realize that what I felt for those around me was sympathy and not empathy.
The difference between these two often confused terms is that sympathy refers to an acknowledgement of another person’s emotional state, while empathy refers to an understanding of what someone else is feeling because you have experienced it yourself. I’ve been fortunate enough to have never experienced the type of sadness felt by losing a loved one.
By now, you’re probably saying “Cool story, bro;” or asking, “So, what does this pedantic bit of pseudo-psychological self-indulgence have to do with sports?” Bear with me for just a little bit longer.
As I reflected on my lack of experience with death, I came upon a pathetic realization that the losses to which I was most familiar with had to do with sports. In fact, I was certain that I had probably even used the term “heart-breaking loss” before to describe the outcome of a game. Such an exaggerated description was rendered suddenly disgusting.