1. Katha Pollitt’s excellent article on battered women contains this sentence:
That a woman might stay with her batterer because she pities him and wants to rescue him from his demons was a new insight for me.
Actually, I have found that pity is the first step in the creation of any abusive relationship. As a child, the children we were supposed to play with out of pity were the abusive ones. Because we had been so exhorted to pity these children, we then felt guilty and conflicted about noticing that they were abusive. And so it has always gone.
2. Pity is the first false step. The next ideologeme, also one I was taught early on, was “but they like you.” “I do not want to play with that person, they are mean.” “But they like you, and you should appreciate that. They are probably only mean because they like you and they do not know how to express it in another way. Be kind.”
3. I have heard this at work a great deal, too. “You are stronger, more competent and better published than he is, and he has had a terrible time in life, so put up with it and help him out. It is part of your job to put up with it and help him out.”
4. I could give many more examples, but this is just a blog post in a text I will develop into a novel and several essays one day. But when I was a child it was manifestly clear that one’s purpose in life was to allow pitiable people to be mean and perhaps manage their meanness to some degree, by helping to tame their demons or even slaying some of them.
5. I was told it would not be that way in college. I should stay in college as long as possible before getting married, when it would be that way again. I went to college early and stayed late.
6. The trees and rocks had not thought that way, and college did not, either. Reeducation did, however, and that was my big shock in life. Yet it was also pity which caused me to tolerate Reeducation. He is not as bright as you are, they said, but he could be wise. Be tolerant, and rein in your intellect so he is not scared.
7. Note the recipe: because they like you (or because they are “the best available at this time”) and they are to be pitied, let them do to you as they will.
8. It means in part: you do not deserve to be liked by anyone, and you have more than you deserve. It is a recipe for disaster.
9. Pity is always the first and most important step, and I note that pity, much though it is piously recommended, is a very poor substitute for self respect, actual respect for others, and decent politics.