Movie Friday: Empathy Boosters

This week we were treated to a bizarre bit of performance art by a commenter who decided to make no fewer than two threads completely about him and his “wisdom” about why victim blaming is okay (but when he does it, it’s not victim blaming). Y’all were way more patient with him than I would have been, but eventually I stepped in and moved him to moderation (GASP! Free speech! FTBullies! Feminazis!) because there seemed to be no bottom to his cluelessness.

Fun times.

Anyway, keeping with the theme of “Required Reading”, today’s video is perhaps best termed “Required Watching”:

I’m not sure if this merits a trigger warning, but if you’ve ever been bullied, be aware that this is likely going to make you cry (or at least that’s what I’m hearing from others). It is an absolutely pitch-perfect blend of expert spoken word and brilliant animation, whose theme is not “it gets better”, but rather “you who are reading this survived”. It’s a call to the rest of us that the trite advice of “don’t feed the bullies” and “kids will be kids” and other grit-your-teeth-isms do nothing more than make people feel isolated and abandoned as they try to deal with their pain. What is needed is greater empathy, and for us to stand up for, and with, victims of bullying.

The second empathy booster is a “game” called Depression Quest:

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment. This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.

I have never had to contend with clinical depression, but the descriptions I have heard from psychology classes and from survivors is that the biggest obstacle to getting better is the combination of the disease sapping your will to act, whilst simultaneously making you feel guilty for not acting more. This game models that fairly well, and is probably a decent ‘first step’ for people who don’t have a lot of knowledge about depression. One thing I thought was missing was the same victim-blaming element (which I may just not have seen on my couple of play-throughs), where people give you what they think is helpful advice, but what is actually just an unwelcome (and shallow) intrusion into your brain.

Anyway, these are also things to keep in your pocket in case there’s someone in your life who could use an empathy boost.

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  1. ischemgeek says

    I’ve watched the video about a half-dozen times today since someone sent it to me at around noon today.

    It’s funny: I didn’t know the backstory of it, but I knew from “To this day, I hate pork chops,” that this was a video written by someone who had a deep and personal history with severe bullying. Someone who recognizes that “bullying” is a trivializing euphemism for “abuse and harassment.”

    None of that patronizing “it gets better” nonsense. None of that victim blaming “stand up for yourself” bullshit. None of those useless “Kids are cruel” obnoxiousness.

    Instead: If you’re watching this, bravo, you made it this far. Go you, because you’re fucking awesome to survive it.

    THAT is what bullied kids need to hear. They should play that video in every single freaking school classroom in this country.

  2. Raskolnikov85 says

    I don’t understand why Mr. Cromwell and ischemgeek are comparing this video to the “It Gets Better” project (hereafter abbreviated to IGB). Daniel Savage started IGB to help LGBT teenagers, whereas Koyczan’s video seems to address bullying in general. Whether you think Koyczan deals with bullying more effectively than IGB is besides the point. They have different objectives.

    Calling some “pork chop” is indefensible. Making someone feel ashamed of their sexual orientation, however, is infinitely worse. I speak as someone who was picked on for being fat and nerdy in grade school. As bad as it was, no one ever told me that I was going to hell. For that I am grateful.

    I apologize if this seems beside the point.

  3. Eristae says

    That game made me sad because I couldn’t get through the first question without the person being me.


  4. Kelseigh Nieforth says

    Shane Koyczan is an utter treasure. I’ve heard a few of his pieces, and I love his focus on whatever people call you, and however you think of yourself, you’re beautiful and valuable. To say nothing of his flawless delivery, but that comes in second to the message behind it.

    I remember standing still at recess and lunchtime in elementary school, and the great relief I felt when I wasn’t picked for teams because then I was free to walk away from that crowd to more comfortable places. The bullying I got was a lot less than most I’ve heard about, but subjectively it was still no fun at all. I’m glad for videos like this that really see into those times, and communicate the feelings so well.

  5. Raskolnikov85 says

    Please ignore the comment I posted earlier. I wasn’t thinking when I wrote it. I apologize for being an idiot.

  6. ischemgeek says

    Raskolnikov85, you weren’t being an idiot, though perhaps a bit knee-jerk… but as someone who’s bi, I’ll spell it out for those with straight privilege who might not see what you saw upon reflection: The reason why “It gets better” exists is that kids marginalized by sexual orientation or gender identity or both are often bullied horribly about it… or live in fear of being bullied horribly about it.

    Annnnd speaking as a kid who lived through that, too, there’s a big problem with “It gets better” and that is that to a 12 year old, the six years they have left of school is literally half a lifetime. It doesn’t seem much like a light at the end of the tunnel when you’re telling them that they literally have to wait half as long as they’ve been alive before they can hope to be treated better. Speaking from the experience of one who was bullied horribly in school: The “light at the end” thing doesn’t really kick in until around grade 10, when the time left in school stops seeming like forever and starts being something you can conceive of.

    Then throw in the cases of kids like me, who were bullied constantly throughout our schooling. I quite honestly could not picture a world where harassment and frequent assaults weren’t a fixture in my life until I moved to uni and was in an environment where I was treated well. I honestly thought that life was going to be another 50+ years of harassment and threats and beatings. I didn’t realize that it could possibly not be that until I started experiencing a life where harassment and assaults and threats weren’t a constant fixture.

    To draw an analogy: Imagine you lived all your life in a dark room. And people kept visiting you in your dark room, and they told you of this thing called “light” that helped you to know where things were through this sense called “sight” but you have to wait until you meet some arbitrary criteria (age 18, let’s say) until you can leave your room and see it for yourself – how likely would you be to believe them? Light is totally outside your experience. You’ve never seen anything. More likely than not, you’ll think they’re bullshitting. I did.

  7. leftwingfox says

    Thing is, I don’t know. But every time this accurately describes my life, the grey box beneath reads:

    “You are very depressed. You spend a large amount of time sleeping, hating yourself, and have very little energy and motivation”.

    I also recognize being in the area marked “deeply depressed” during a very stressful job, even though I managed to rebound. I feel like I’m not functioning at the level I should be, but I look at all the folks who are worse off and feel like It’s not a big deal.

  8. says

    Well I would say, as my totally non-medical opinion, that depression isn’t diagnosed relative to other people. It’s diagnosed relative to normal functioning (which is evaluated relative to other people, I know, shut up), so if you feel like your depression symptoms are interfering with your ability to live your life the way you want to, it might be worth consulting with a professional. Of course, I have zero idea how good professionals are at dealing with depression, so I am operating from a place of supreme ignorance.

  9. ischemgeek says

    leftwingfox: Speaking as someone who’s been there: If you think you might be depressed – as in, have depression, not as in be sad or what have you – you probably do. Or, if not depression, then something else that’s causing you to feel depressed. If the descriptions in that game sound familiar, counseling is a good idea.

    *hugs* if you want them from an internet stranger. Depression, be it situational (which I’ve had) or clinical (which I’ve never had), is no fun.

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