Actor Stephen Fry has been quite open about his history of depression and bipolar disorder that at one time even led him to seriously consider suicide. He is now the president of the British mental health charity Mind and is credited with raising awareness and changing attitudes on those issues.
But he recently got into hot water for suggesting that “he had no sympathy for child abuse victims’ “self-pity” if it meant restricting free speech.”
“There are many great plays which contain rapes, and the word rape now is even considered a rape,” he said. “If you say: ‘you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, or you can’t read it in a Shakespeare class, or you can’t read Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place’, well I’m sorry.
“It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place, you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity.
“Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Just grow up.”
This issue of the conflict between free speech and sensitivity to people’s feelings is one that has come to the forefront recently but that is not what I want to look at right now. What I want to address is this habit that people have of giving advice to others about how they should react to a situation. This advice is usually based not on professional expertise but on their sense of how they themselves would react or have reacted in the past to similar situations.
While one’s own experiences and reactions if something similar happened to you provide an important perspective that is worth sharing, that does not mean it should be dispensed as advice to others as to how they should react. People are different and react differently to different situations and what worked for you may not work for someone else.