Choosing Bears

For posterity, since a few weeks or months from now no one is going to remember anything about this discourse, here is a link that tries to explain the origin. I would have linked to the origin of this avalanche, but I think that was on TikTok and I’m not linking there, for a variety of reasons. That’s probably worthy of a post on its own.

If you don’t want to click that link and you still want the TL;DR: Someone asked the question, “if you’re lost in the woods, would you rather run into a strange man or a bear?” A lot of women choose the bear, and some number of men are upset about that.

Why am I talking about this? Isn’t there already enough discourse on the subject?

To the first question, I think it’s interesting. To the second, I might have something unique to say about it, which centers around empathy.

Regardless, I have been enjoying the memes.

My contribution? Run into the wrong bear in the woods and you might wind up a firefighter.

The jokes make me smile, and I think it’s an interesting question. Some people are taking it very seriously, though.

This is where I want to pivot from all the things everyone else is talking about, and talk about empathy. I think this is one of those rare cases demonstrating that men have and use empathy without thinking about it. In this case, empathizing with the wrong side.

Empathy is simply the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s looking at the world and feeling it through someone else’s perspective. It’s watching someone else’s heartbreak and feeling a lump in your throat. It’s when someone slips off their skateboard, racks themselves on a guardrail, and the onlookers twist in sympathetic groin pain.

Sociopaths are partially defined by their lack of empathy.

When I think of the original question put in front of a woman, I understand the choice of a bear. A bear will kill you, but a strange man will hurt you. Most men are good guys. Most of the time, it would be better for a strange man to show up than a strange bear. On the other hand, historically, men have done more harm than bears, and it’s easy to imagine the worst case scenario: A mad bear will kill you, while a dangerous man will do something worse.

I’m not hearing the question as, “Would you rather be found by a strange bear or Brian Buhl?” If that was the question and people that know me were still picking the bear, I would feel hurt.

That’s where my point about empathy comes in. I think some men are putting themselves in the scenario, seeing themselves as the strange man. Why would someone choose getting mauled by a bear? “Am I not a nice guy? I’m way less scary than a bear!” they think. They may even be correct, but the question isn’t about them. It’s about strange bears versus strange men, and men have a terrible track record.

These upset men are capable of empathy, but are exercising it only one way. They’re putting themselves in the place of the stranger in the woods, rather than imagining the perspective of a woman having to choose between quick death or potential torment.

The funny thing is that as I think about it, the empathy-gender line is firm the other way, too. At least, that’s what I see from some of the comments from women taking this whole thought experiment too seriously.