There are two general classes of human misfortune.
There is the tragic, life-altering misfortune which is so patently bad that it hardly necessitates words or deep elucidation. Most commonly, such events are simply observed with a simple “I’m sorry” and depending on your relationship with the stricken party, a hug or other physical gesture of commiseration. This misfortune comes in one flavor: terrible.
And there is the “lesser” type of misfortune which spans a wider range of instances of “bad luck.” These are those group of misfortunes which are responsible for minor or average annoyances and inconveniences. To be sure, none of us wish to experience even these misfortunes because they are simply a pain in the ass. Still, despite the faint taste of misfortune these events leave in their wake, the misfortune is short-lived and realistically remedied. Lives are not permanently or chronically altered as a result of these misfortunes, yet the typical human response to this misfortune in others tends to be overblown and exaggerated because the misfortune is not so “unspeakable” that people feel uncomfortable acknowledging it. This lower tier type of misfortune is less intimidating by nature of its relative insignificance so everyone is eager to jump into the ring and extend oodles of sympathy.
It’s this overblown expression of sympathy that people extend to victims of this minor misfortune that baffles me. I can’t relate to stuff like “Oh my GOD, I’m SO sorry about your flat tire!” I don’t understand this reaction. I’m the type of person who is preoccupied with solutions and reasons. My initial reaction would be, “Aw, that sucks. Did you run over something? Is the puncture in the sidewall, because if it is, you know you’ll probably need a new tire.” This is my inhumanly analytic reaction to misfortune. It’s difficult for me to conjure up displays of sympathy because any inkling of sympathy I might experience is otherwise overshadowed by my curiosity and clinical fixations with the cause and effect dynamics behind the misfortune under examination.
Misfortune, in all its carnations, has always elicited an unemotional laboratory-spawned response from me. It’s as if each instance of misfortune is an experiment waiting to be untangled and outlined in sequential chunks of scientific method. Perhaps it is a subconscious device I devised in order to avoid dealing with life’s cruelties. When bad things happen to those I know, I can’t turn an unknowing eye while I regurgitate a foul stream of vague and reflexive platitudes. It’s a given that we are sorry for other’s misfortunes, isn’t it? It’s a given that as emotional humans we can understand that your latest round of bad luck sucks…how does donning these plaintive wails of “I’m sorry” serve to get the point across which was inferred without loads of verbal BS to begin with? People are not stupid. It’s not logical to me and therefore I have great difficulty expressing such empty morsels of sympathy. I think most expressions of “I’m so sorry you are going through this” when concerning petty misfortunes are empty gestures designed for public spectacle. Witness the Facebookian proliferation of such nonsense. People are so vain as to assume the act of expressing self-righteous dismay with another’s bad luck makes them a better person or more honorable supplicant.
Sorry, but words don’t make the saint.