Reading 2 – Clark. Misery and Company: Sympathy in Everyday Life

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Reading 2 – Clark. Misery and Company: Sympathy in Everyday Life

The reading offers a glimpse at the social rules of sympathy. The author provides definitions and discusses various rules of sympathy. What are the rules of sympathy in the American culture? Do you agree with them?

To make the analysis slightly more concrete, we will think of some hypothetical cases by adhering to some of her concepts. One of the rules of sympathy is that we must not claim too much sympathy; a corollary rule is that we must not claim sympathy for too long, either. Think of the following situations. Who deserves sympathy for the longest period of time? Who deserves sympathy for the next longest period of time, and so forth? In other words, reorder the scenarios from highest (1) to lowest (7), in terms of how long the “sympathizee” would deserve your sympathy (for example, if you know someone who broke a leg, lost a parent, broke up with his/her significant other etc., how much sympathy would they get from you).

  1. Breaking a leg and having to stay on a cast and crutches for 6 months
  2. Having to take a really hard sociology class from a professor who according to rumors is really mean
  3. Having a parent die when you are only 20 years old
  4. Having a parent die when you are 55 years old
  5. Being dumped by your boy/girlfriend after dating them for 3-4 years
  6. Flunking out of college
  7. Being expelled from college after being caught cheating

Now, think of the following questions.

  • What factors did you take into account when ordering your list?
  • Is it possible for someone to receive sympathy indefinitely or for someone to offer sympathy indefinitely?
  • Do you think there are gender differences when offering or receiving sympathy?

please write at least 200 words for reply:

In some societies and places, such as the Iks in Central Africa, individuals do not show sympathy and simply only worries about themselves. In other societies and places, such as Americans in the United States, sympathy is part of the social life and culture which means individuals show, receive, and feel sympathy. One realization is that feelings and emotions shape the social structure of a society. (Clark 103-104)

American’s have created rules which have been handed down from generation to generation called common sense. According to Candance Clark, “[s]ympathy is a crucial emotion that provides glue for social bonds, the building blocks of society” (Clark 103). The first rule of sympathy in American culture is to not make a false claim to sympathy which means do not make a false accusation, or a lie, of hardship to receive sympathy to benefit yourself. By doing this, others lose trust in you. An example of this is a tale of the boy who cried wolf. A boy always wanted sympathy from those around him so he lied that a wolf was threatening him. Until one day when the event actually happened, the individuals surrounding the boy had no sympathy for him due to his previous experiences. The second rule in American culture is to not claim too much sympathy which means when individuals actually have a reason to be sympathized, they should not gain sympathy for too much time, too often, or want too much of it. This could lead others to not feel bad for you. The way one reacts, speaks, choice of wording, and tone helps others determine when to give or receive sympathy but also the personality of the individual. The third rule in American culture is that one has to claim some sympathy. If you do not claim some sympathy then you can be looked at as too self-centered or too successful in your circumstances such as everything good happens to you or you do not have anything bad in your life. (Clark 104-108)

When reviewing the rules of American culture, I have thought about my own experiences and feelings with the rules of sympathy. I agree with the first rule. Unfortunately, people often crave attention to be give sympathy which is seen a lot today on social media. However, when something bad does happen to the individual, people are less likely to reach out to the person, give sympathy or assistance, and things of that matter. I agree and do not agree with the second rule. I agree that if one has a reason to claim sympathy that they should but dragging the situation out can be repetitive and others can build a tolerance in a way to your situation. However, I do not agree with this rule because if an individual is in a situation, such as losing a parent, a lifelong effecting event, difficult things may come up which triggers this event in which sympathy should be given when it is needed to support the individual. I do agree with the third rule. If one does not accept when others is giving sympathy to them, they often are seen as stubborn, selfish, have an attitude and are better than everyone else. Verbal and non-verbal signals can help one determine if one is accepting or denying the sympathy given to them and determines their personality or way of life.

Clark, C., 1998. Misery And Company: Sympathy In Everyday Life. University of Chicago Press, pp.103-108.

Who deserves sympathy for the longest amount of time? (1 is the highest and 7 is the lowest)

  1. Breaking a leg and having to stay on a cast and crutches for 6 months (4)
  2. Having to take a really hard sociology class from a professor who according to rumors is really mean (6)
  3. Having a parent die when you are only 20 years old (1)
  4. Having a parent die when you are 55 years old (2)
  5. Being dumped by your boy/girlfriend after dating them for 3-4 years (3)
  6. Flunking out of college (%)
  7. Being expelled from college after being caught cheating (7)

As I reviewed the situations and ordered how long I would give someone sympathy to, I realized that these answers will be different to everyone based on their feelings and personal experiences. I personally put myself in each situation as if I had a friend who (enter situation here) and then asked myself how “bad” would I feel for them and how much sympathy would I give to them? Based on my personal experiences, beliefs, feelings, etc, I ordered the situations from how much sympathy I would give to someone. I would give the most amount of sympathy to an individual who has a parent pass away when they are twenty years old and I would give the least amount of sympathy to someone who was expelled from college after being caught cheating. I do think it is possible for someone to receive or offer sympathy for an indefinite amount of time. We, humans, often do not give sympathy indefinitely due to patience and tolerance but I do think it is possible. I think it depends on each individual’s personality and situation. I think their may be some gender differences with sympathy due to cultural beliefs but I do not think that their should be a large difference. Often men are supposed to be tough so if they give or receive sympathy they may not be seen as tough. However, I feel that no matter your gender, giving and receiving sympathy is being kind.

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