Sunday Firesides: The Birthday Empathy Test

When it’s your birthday, you’re thoroughly aware of this fact. It’s at the forefront of your mind. You feel a sense of expectation. You hope for a good day, for a surprise, for recognition of the date by others.

When it’s a friend’s or loved one’s birthday, the day doesn’t feel any different to you. It’s not at the top of your mind. In fact, if social media didn’t tip you off, you’d likely forget the date had any significance at all.

This same “significance gap” between how an individual experiences his own birthday, versus how everyone else does, manifests itself in every other area of life as well.

For you, the fact that your parent is sick, or that you’ve got an ongoing conflict with your boss, weighs very heavily on your mind, but for me, this news elicits little visceral reaction. For you, the cute thing your toddler or “doggo” did is incredibly scintillating, but for me, it holds little inherent interest.

The outside party might leave things there, in a state of “I couldn’t possibly find anything less interesting than your (dog) child.” But it’s impossible to have deep and lasting relationships that way! One must intentionally remind oneself that the goings-on in another’s life feel just as important and salient to them, as the goings-on in your own life feel to you. If you really want to know someone (in the same way that you wish to be known), you must step into their shoes, and try to feel and understand things the way they do.

Whether or not you’re able to move beyond what something means to you, to figure out, and act upon, what it means to someone else, is something that might be termed “The Birthday Empathy Test.” And passing, is a big part of growing up.

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