I am convinced that altruism in part, or in full, exists as a competition. In a society that champions empathy (except for when it doesn’t), there is a large incentive to show oneself as more empathic or society-driven than another individual. Who can help the most old ladies across the street and hold the most doors open for the disabled are counted in wins and losses for individuals. People take note of the self-centered and the apathetic. I believe this goes in an orthogonal direction, however. Instead of consciously helping others (without gain) as a means to advance in society, I suspect that we also keep track of who sheds the most tears. Consider your own social media feeds. What percentage of posts on your feed are by others sharing injustices? Hell, I know mine is full of them and I am not exactly following highly empathic individuals. It’s a needless cycle that everyone seems to be contributing to.
People feel a need to jockey for position with respect to the tragedies around them. Indifference is essentially apathy and treated as anathema. Recently in the United States, bans on same-sex marriage were ruled unconstitutional. Prior to that, I could read countless stories on any given day of dying partners in unmarried relationships or other injustices related to an inability to get married. My feed flowed with the rainbow tears of others. It still does. The point is that there is a component to discourse that seems to demand a grand circle jerk to this tragic pornography. Who cares most about the tragic realities of the world is the one to be emulated and it is a chase for pole position.
Empathy is a required condition for humanity in the eyes of many. Those with empathy are constantly given preferential treatment over those without. Those that possess the capacity for affective empathy are taught an early age to cry when appropriate, smile when appropriate, and do nothing when appropriate. I can remember countless instances of my family chastising me when I did not feign enough empathy. I can see why it would be logical to over-compensate as a result of the conditioning around us.
Tragedy is the price of life. We all will die. We all will suffer at times. If you want to do something about it in an “altruistic” fashion, then do so. Becoming a fountain of sorrow helps no one and is primarily self-serving in a society that keeps track of those with empathy and those without. If we are conditioned to produce empathic responses or be abhorred, then it is only common sense that many will over-compensate. Spare me your tears, show me your action, and stop the needless jockeying for position that empathy entails. It’s a waste of your energy and my time.