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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bow Shows Empathy

Yesterday, at dinner time, Somebody was very sad. It was not me. It was not Bow. But it was Somebody who had tears streaming down her face. And Bow, who usually starts his dinner conversation with "Give me X", spelled instead סליחה.

Now, you probably want to know what that means. But at this point, I am having trouble deciding how to translate this one Hebrew word. The word itself means "pardon" or "forgiveness", but Bow usually uses it to apologize, and then I always translate it as "I'm sorry."

English "I'm sorry" implies regret, and hence it can be used for both an apology and as an expression of sympathy over another person's pain and suffering. The Hebrew apology is a straightforward request for forgiveness. 

I believe the Hebrew standard apology is better, because it accepts culpability, whereas the English one kind of blurs the line, and we can never tell if someone is saying "I'm sorry you got hurt, and I'm sorry I am the one who hurt you" -- or "I'm sorry you got hurt, but it's not my fault."

However, Bow has a very dim sense of culpability, so lots of times his apologies, both verbal and non-verbal, seem to be more about "I'm sorry you are angry. Please stop being angry."

Either way, though Bow's sense of right and wrong does not coincide with mine, he does feel empathy, and that was what he was trying to express with his limited vocabulary. Bow did not have anything to do with the sadness he saw. He did not cause it. But he wanted to express sympathy, and the easiest way was to use his apology word.

After that, he did order a dish of food, but when he sat down to wait for me to give him the food, Bow gestured through the glass to the Sad Person and it was his chimpanzee apology gesture! Of course, it was hard to do through the glass, but he offered up his knuckles to be kissed or bitten through the glass.

He really was trying to say "I'm sorry", but it wasn't an apology at all. The gesture had been grammaticalized to mean "I feel your sorrow!"

Even She smiled a little through her tears when She noticed it. "Is he sad that I'm sad?" --  "Yes."

Does Bow have empathy for others? Definitely. Does he have self-awareness? Yes.

But do I think he needs legal personhood rights? No. Because that's a political question. For more on that, read my post  today in the other blog about the Immutable Soul.
This is an old picture of Bow when sad. I didn't get a photo of what happened yesterday.