Mike Buzzelli

Column Mike Buzzelli

Mike Buzzelli is a stand up comedian and published author. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant, Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine, and an active board member of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival, the Carnegie Arts Initiative and the Carnegie Screenwriters. His book, "Below Average Genius" is a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column here in the Observer-Reporter.

Sympathy pains

July 25, 2014

I have gotten into a bad habit lately. I started feeling sympathy for other people. I remember when I made my first mistake. The other day I asked someone, “How are you?”

Instead of giving me the standard “I’m fine,” this guy unloaded piles of problems at my feet. I suppose he mistook me for “The Undercover Boss.” He must have thought I was capable of giving them $30,000, college tuition and a brand new car to get there. Alas, I am not an undercover boss, and, if I were, I would be more likely to fire him than help him.

Side note: There must be some waiver those secret CEOs sign when they go on that show. They are nice to the most miserable employees.

Meanwhile, I was a little annoyed that I didn’t just get “I’m good” or an “I’m fine” when I asked my seemingly innocuous question. That’s all most of us want with, “How are you?” God forbid, they give you the truth. No one wants that! Unless it’s good news. I’ll take “I got a new job,” “I’m in love” and “I won the lottery” as excellent answers to the question.

It’s mostly context. If I sit down in a restaurant with you, I might actually care about what’s going on in your life, but if we’re just passing each other on the street, I just want an obligatory “I’m fine.”

I have two standard answers when someone says, “How are you?” I either reply “I’m good” or “I’m great.”

If I’m up, dressed and out in the world, I consider it a good day. If it’s payday, or I have plans with friends, or a hot date, it’s a great day. I’m not saying bad stuff happens to me, but most days, I’m happy to be alive. You’d be surprised how many people hate that.

Yesterday, I said, “Good morning” to a person in the elevator, and she responded with, “What’s so good about it?” I wanted to say to her, “You’re up. You’re walking. You’re going to work. You most likely have a roof over your head, etc.” I wouldn’t actually have said, “Et cetera.” That’d be weird.

I was feeling good until I said good morning. Now, I felt like I had to bolster her mood. I made it my mission to fix her. At least, until we get to the fourth floor.

Sympathy. It’s annoying. It’s bad for me, and it’s bad for the other person, especially if they want to stay in their funk, which, oddly enough, most people do. They don’t want a list of reasons why life is good. Everyone hates to be cheered up when they’re stuck in a mood. You become an unwelcome guest at their pity party.

I learned a long time ago, feeling stuff for another person doesn’t do anything. Doing stuff for another person does. Whenever you feel bad about someone’s situation, you’re not making it better. You’re just gossiping about them.

Example: “Did you hear about poor Elphaba? A house fell on her sister.”

My advice: Don’t give people a reason to talk about you, unless you’ve got a new job, you’re in love or you just won the lottery.



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