#manintree – Cody Miller and our Unfortunate Limits to feeling empathy


I write this particular entry as the proudest possible version of myself. Bernie Sanders has won the caucus in my home-state of Washington by a landslide, offering him precisely the momentum that he needs. That is how we do it in the northwest. You stay classy, nation. 😉

It has been an eventful and newsworthy week for my sweet state, as earlier this week a man climbed to the top of an 80-foot tree and refused to cooperate with negotiators. Twitter lit up with the now infamous #manintree hashtag, and the news spread nationwide, as the man refused to come down for 25 hours.

I laid in my apartment listening to the incessant sound of helicopters hovering over the man, wondering if I should go check out the spectacle for myself. I decided against it. I was so afraid the man was going to fall and I didn’t want to witness that. My mirror neurons were going crazy and I couldn’t keep from pacing with that sweaty-palm feeling you get when you have a debilitating fear of heights…

I was touched by immediate concerns for the man’s safety and mental condition. It seemed, however, that those concerns were all too quickly replaced with admonishments and calls for “chainsaws,” which would have ended both the life of the tree and the man inside it. There were calls to burn him out of the tree and amounting complaints of disruptions to people’s commutes.

It is sad to me how limited we are in our ability to feel empathy or compassion. Something as mundane and petty as a disruption to our commute to work could actually see us calling for the tragic death of a mentally ill man. That the alleged “wastage” of our tax-payer resources is somehow unjustified in the wake of such a tragedy that could have very easily become dangerous.

I also heard claims that we should ignore him and that it isn’t newsworthy. Another dismissal I find incredibly inappropriate. A mentally ill man is having a very public mental/emotional meltdown and has created a situation that could be dangerous for himself and others. To claim that is not newsworthy is entirely questionable. I suppose we should focus our attention on things that matter? Like “Keeping up with the Kardashians” or J. Law’s latest haircut. The truth is – the man’s life is important, public safety is important, and mental health is absolutely important.

People consider themselves champions of mental illness, but they forget that it isn’t only expressed in a pretty Adele song. Sometimes it is ugly. Sometimes it is disruptive. Sometimes it uses the resources that we as tax payers have in place for that very reason. My hope is that this incident will serve as a reminder to always indulge our ability to feel empathy. I am also so pleased that Cody Miller wasn’t injured, nor was anyone else. Finally, I am proud of SPD’s handling of Miller, though I wish they would have held to their word of not pursuing charges against him. Either way, what with the Sanders victory and our beloved #manintree, Seattle is looking like such a lovely city right now, and I couldn’t be more proud.


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