Empathy is not a competition

The Craigslist advertisement was allegedly written by a 24-year-old US man who described himself as "40 pounds overweight, not very visually appealing, not very confident or good in conversation, working full time at Staples to pay my share of the two room studio I share with this couple - not very impressive in general".

The man said he'd been adopted at birth and had recently tracked down his biological parents, his first ever meeting with them scheduled for that very weekend.

And therein the reason for the ad.

The Craigslist writer wanted to hire a male model, someone who is "handsome, well-spoken and can convey a charming, confident successful demeanor" to impersonate him for the reunion with his birth parents.

He would brief the male model on some made-up details of his life, then send him off to the meeting to charm his parents and show them how "successful" he was.


So his mum and dad would feel regret at "handing me over to strangers 24 years ago".

He concluded: "You won't have to keep this act going. I'm not going to try to establish an ongoing relationship with them. I Just want them to hate themselves a little.

"I want them to think that they might have had something to be proud of had they kept me, maybe even a better life, and then in a few weeks when they ask to see me again, I'll tell them they just didn't impress me that much and I think we should go our separate ways."

If it was a legitimate advertisement, it's very sad, and I dare say the author hates himself just a little but, then, he's not Robinson Crusoe there.

I can only take what the guy has written at face value - always a trap for new players on the internet - and speculate that the reason his ad was passed around Twitter was that many of us feel like we've not met the expectations of parents.

Some, like this man, may even wish we could make our mum or dad feel as crap as they've made us feel over the years.

What surprised me about the conversation around this ad was that some people felt comfortable mocking it - one tweeter said it reached "new levels of hilarity and horror. Almost a pitch for a Todd Solondz film, really".

Which I'm guessing means the writer cannot comprehend having had a shit childhood, bad parents or being damaged by their upbringing.

As I see it, the grand game, the big challenge for all of us as humans, is to try to understand each other.

It's the major obstacle confronting every minority; attempting to make others understand why it sometimes sucks to be who they are because the rest of us just don't get it.

Whites in this country don't understand what it's like to be judged for the colour of their skin; the able-bodied don't understand what it's like to be stared at or suffer condescension like people with disfigurements or disabilities; straights don't understand how soul-destroying it is to be told you don't have the same rights as the person living next door to you, just because you're gay.

You don't even have to be a minority - hell, women outnumber men, but they're still trying to make us understand - I mean really understand - what it feels like to be objectified and threatened just because of your gender.

In my view, all hells are equal and it's pointless trying to compare one person's suffering with another's; we are all deserving of empathy.

And mocking another's suffering, I just don't get it, unless you're daring the universe to dish out a little more sadness to you.

You might have heard the term "smug marrieds", meant to describe married couples who like to remind singles how much they're missing out on, not having a better half.

What a lot of us don't realise is there is also "smug normals" - people who had the benefit of a stable, loving home as children and cannot comprehend the hole left when you did not.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.