I have been reading this webcomic for a while. Set in a post-apocalyptic world (more precisely, a nuclear war), it meanders through the perspective of a cyborg. The author has introduced several characters, and an annoying and possibly evil-like one was Darla. She was partly responsible for the readers to develop sympathy for the cyborg, the central character. In the current chapter, the author is reversing course and trying to bring Darla into the loveable fold. Through dialogues and neatly set up situations, readers are now starting to love this character. And it is not that the author changed her characteristics. She is still wild, careless and ferocious, but by manipulating the situations where these same characteristics, which once made her look like a villain, but now more fun, the author has started to play mind games with his readers. At first, I thought it is just me who is perceiving it. However, the author himself admitted to it, “I will convert every one of you” was the author’s comment while replying to one of the many change-of-the-heart comments from readers.
I realized how much a person’s characteristics coupled with the situation around which we have their companionship, affects how we perceive them. If we meet a straight-as-an-arrow, extremely focused and methodical individual at work, we might adore that person and develop a deep affection. Then, on one fine day, the team goes out to take a breather in the woods and you see the admiration and affection you had for that person melt away as they seem unable to hold their forte. One typically may develop sympathy towards that person, but I suspect that deep inside, the sympathy was only a cover for the lack of empathy to your own disgust on how a character turned when the situation changed.
Recently, I read about the story of a semi-celebrity who ended up meeting their idol, a well-known celebrity. The semi-celebrity came back from the meet on a sombre note, “Do not meet your idols”, was the lesson. For it is easy to fall in love with the polished, narrow and glamorous aspect of a person and then be completely stumped by meeting them in real. But very few people are actually stumped. Because that means one has to re-evaluate the years of adoration, and worship one has built up. Sometimes, it might turn to sympathy or a sense of understanding towards the celebrity. That sympathy I suspect, as much as we may say is towards our idol, is actually towards us. Towards our disgust, our disappointment, our past-adoration. Something I felt when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France championships after admitting to his vast drug campaign. But in that case, I could turn the disgust towards him, for his betrayal. But in most cases, a person’s adoration develops within us, and when we end up seeing their far side, we flip, and want to roll on the floor like a child would after being denied icecream. But we don’t. Rather, I hypothesize, we do, and psychologists call it, cognitive dissonance.
When we see our political, or religious idols falter, I suspect that cognitive dissonance kicks up for the same reason. We throw tantrums, refuse to see the evidence, and then go on through what-about-that argument and spend a long time saturating ourselves with the apparently hideous acts of an extremist on the opposite side. So, it appears to me that a lot of political mud-slinging today comes out of our lack of empathy for us, our inability to be nice to ourselves against the disgust that arises when we face the complex realities of our idols. This is also why political warriors online and in their real-life spend enormous time ploughing through the ugly underbellies of their perceived opponents. Because it provides them with enough emotional disgust against the opponent that our own disgust against our adoration of the now-fallen idols can be justified and carry forwarded.
A few years back, I was talking to a friend who reminisced about a long-lost but still bright-in-imagery love. “I’m still in love with her”, he said. I concurred with him, “I feel so about my past too. But are we really?”, I added, “Or are we still in love with the image of the person we had a huge crush on 10 years back?”, I asked. As the fact dawned us that we have not met that long-lost love since then, a few seconds of silence passed, we both nodded in silence, “I think we are living the past, today”. If we do a little more to understand how this self-empathy can be given, we may be better off?