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No Sympathy

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"When Rick told me he was having trouble with his wife, I had to laugh. Not because of what he said, but because of a joke I thought of. I told him the joke, but he didn't laugh very much. Some friend he is."
Jack Handey

Common sense dictates that it never pays to judge someone too quickly, jump to conclusions, or condemn someone without hearing the whole story. In the world of fiction, however, many characters are not only guilty of all of the above, but feel no remorse for it whatsoever, even when it results in serious emotional damage.

For example, here's a quick quiz: It's your birthday, and you have told a loved one exactly what you would like as a present to mark the occasion. You walk into the living room and find your gift... which has been broken/ripped into a million little pieces, although someone has clearly been making a valiant effort to repair it. Moreover, it's the wrong color. As you're staring at it, your Loved One stumbles in from the kitchen. They have their arm in a sling, their jeans have been ripped by something that clearly has sharp teeth, and they don't seem to have noticed that their hair is on fire. Seeing you, they offer a lopsided smile, and a tired if hopeful "Happy birthday."

Do you:

  • a) Ask "what the heck happened to you?" as you reach for the fire extinguisher or fire blanket?
  • b) Tearfully hug them in an attempt to soothe their distress (trying to avoid being set alight yourself)?
  • c) Throw a hissy fit at their failure to secure the correct colour of gift, rant and rave at their clumsiness in breaking it, then toss them out of the house before they set off the sprinklers?

Most of us of (relatively) sound mind would choose (a) — the softer hearted (or fireproof) among us might choose (b). For some reason, though, an awful lot of characters in fiction prefer (c), throwing a tantrum or launching into a lecture when there really weren't any grounds for one.

It's as if they've suffered a complete case of empathy failure. Anyone can tell that The Hero has had a hard time. They've got the scars to prove it. At the very least, any onlooker's sense of curiosity should wake up for long enough to ask "Why is there a piranha attached to your thigh?" Moreover, basic human decency would dictate that we cut them some slack when they're clearly in pain, at least for long enough to figure out the whole story.

More bewildering is when the friend/onlooker knows exactly what the hero's been through, because they were there too. They know that Diabolus ex Machina has been rather busy in the hero's social circle, and that his buddy Deus Angst Machina covered a couple of Diabolus' shifts for him when he had the cold. Yet still they show absolutely no mercy, demanding that the hero "pull himself together" or "get over it!" So much for friendship.

A variant of this trope is a character type who is blind to the suffering of others. Not in the active, thoughtlessly cruel way of Comedic Sociopathy, but just completely unable to appreciate the pain or distress of other people. If anyone "fails" them, there will be hell to pay, no matter how much effort went into fulfilling their orders. Generally, this is a personality trait of more cynical characters, such as The Stoic. Some Tsundere types sport it as well, although in this case they'll probably be called on it. In both cases, the writer usually makes it clear that the "problem" is on the side of the character with no sympathy, not on the side of whoever is unfortunate enough to cross them.

This is an odd trope; although often seen in comedies, it's not always comedic as far as the audience is concerned, and can be a real sucker punch if the protagonist undergoes tremendous hardship only to have his friends berate him.

A Kafka Komedy often invokes this trope. Comedic Sociopathy is its demented sibling. Sometimes No Sympathy can be justified if the characters are young, since younger people are expected to be more self-centered and less empathic than adults... although, having said that, this may be extremely unfair to young people. It might also be justified if the recipient is the Asshole Victim since, let's face it, it's kind of hard to sympathize with them to begin with.

Compare Ungrateful Bastard. If a character is deliberately stated to be incapable of sympathizing with the feelings or viewpoints of others, that's Lack of Empathy. For when nobody seems to find women enacting random violence towards men for non-existent reasons at all unusual, see Unprovoked Pervert Payback. If someone doesn't feel bad for what they did to someone, that's The Unapologetic. "Rashomon"-Style shows frequently have contrasting examples of this: someone who got hurt will usually report callousness and lack of sympathy from the other characters, while each one describes him or herself as the one who acted most effectively and compassionately to the injury. For a fitting Stock Phrase regarding this trope, it's Quit Your Whining. For the audience version, see Angst Dissonance. If this sort of attitude is aimed at characters who hold a grievance, then it's No Sympathy for Grudgeholders. For characters rejecting sympathy instead of being given the lack of it, it's Don't You Dare Pity Me!.

A character who displays this trope can be and often is turned into The Scrappy, as audiences hate them for being nasty and spiteful pricks to people who've usually suffered enough to become The Woobie - assuming they aren't intended to be a Hate Sink to begin with. This is the central conceit of the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist - the audience enjoys seeing them suffer because they usually deserve it. See also Jerkass Ball, Conflict Ball, Distress Ball and Idiot Ball (which are main and/or only reasons why the person unsympathethic while usually they do).

Example Subpages:

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Examples of plot-related No Sympathy:

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Zigzagged. During the Bad Guy Anon meeting, Ralph shocks everyone by saying he's tired of being the Bad Guy. It's justified when we later learn that Turbo did the same thing during his backstory, refusing his programmed role and the ensuing consequences. Ralph says he just wants one day where he's not treated like garbage, and that he can receive a slice of pie. A zombie bluntly replies that there's a price to getting what you want, even if it's as little as a bit of appreciation. Then the villains talk about how they understand Ralph's perspective, but you can't find outer validation for your job especially when you are meant to be the villain. It has to come from within. Ralph doesn't understand until the end of the movie.
  • Turning Red:
    • Played straight with Tyler, as he keeps mocking Mei for her mother embarrassing her. He doesn't care that Mei doesn't want Ming's Control Freak nature. Tyler pays for it at his birthday party when he pushes Mei too far. Later, at least, he helps save 4*Town and assists in restoring Ming back to normal, showing he has grown out of this.
    • Zigzagged when Mei apologizes to her friends for letting Ming bully them. They're a bit cold at first. While Miriam aptly points out that Mei threw them under the bus by not speaking up for them, she actually isn't mad; far from it, she's been taking care of Mei's Tamagotchi. No, while she was hurt and disappointed, her bigger concern was that Mei was letting her mother run roughshod over her life and being oblivious to the fact that Ming's behavior is not healthy at all. When Mei gives a sincere apology and promises she is done being her mother's doormat, they tackle her in a hug and welcome her back to the fold.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Aesop's Fables: In "The Sheep and the Pig," a pig squeals loudly and struggles a lot when a shepherd carries him away. The sheep scold him for doing so.
    Sheep: The shepherd carries us away like that all the time, and we don't make such a fuss.
    Pig: No, you don't, but he only wants you for wool. He wants me for bacon!
  • The Bible: In the Book of Job, this is the treatment that the eponymous character receives from his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They claim that him sinning must be the reason why all these bad things have happened, although in actuality, it was Satan who had taken away Job's wealth and children and putting boils on him to test his faith. Despite this, Job protests to his friends that he has been upstanding for all of his life and during his suffering, he remains faithful to God.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Scott Steiner has no "sympathy" for Kevin Nash and his allegedly-injured leg. This might also qualify as a character trait, as Steiner never displays sympathy for anyone, preferring to instead call them fat.
  • Bret Hart towards Batista on the May 24, 2010 episode of Raw after the latter got badly injured losing to John Cena in an "I Quit" match at Over the Limit the night before. Despite knowing he's badly hurt (and in a wheelchair no less), Bret offers Batista another shot at Cena for the WWE Championship if he qualifies for a fatal-four-way match at the pay-per-view of the same name against Randy Orton to be held right away. When Batista twice points out his condition and threatens to quit if he continues to have him take the match, Bret names Orton the winner via forfeit and leaves, ignoring an outraged Batista's demand to return. Losing to Cena in three straight pay-per-views already made Batista angry enough but Bret's lack of concern towards his injuries was the last straw for him to follow through with quitting the WWE.
  • James Storm once got in a feud with Rhyno after learning Rhyno refuses to drink alcohol, which Storm found offensive since he loves beer. When Rhyno explained that he does not drink because his father was an alcoholic and it killed him, Storm mocked him and said he did not care about his father, and he would make his life a living Hell for spurning beer.

  • Skittles Commercial: The Broadway Musical: Absolutely no one, from the audience members to the corporate executive who shows up to the aftermath of the convenience store riot, cares about Michael's death in the slightest, instead focusing on how much of a waste of time the musical was and how it failed to make enough money. They don't even bother to acknowledge his death until it's revealed that it's caused nearly six hundred packs of Skittles to be sold, to which they finally start to care, and even then none of them seem remorseful that their actions caused an innocent man's death.

  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Boxbot only wants to help, but is hampered by the fact that he's a badly programmed box with arms. He is consequently terrible, a fact that the characters and author are extremely willing to share.
  • In Warbot in Accounting, nobody ever has sympathy for Warbot. At one point, he tries to commit suicide, fails, and ends up chastised by his colleague for skipping work.
    Everyone pretty much thinks you're a jerk.
    • This is, of course, the point. After that page was posted, the writer received an e-mail from his mother claiming the page wasn't sad enough, and Warbot should have gotten a bill for repairing the damage he did to the street by landing on it headfirst.

    Web Original 
  • The Veronica Exclusive features a particularly harsh and depressingly realistic example. After Martha tries to kill herself, the comments on her video suicide note are filled with her long-time bullies either making fun of her or expressing disappointment that she didn't actually die.

Examples of No Sympathy as a character trait:

    Comic Strips 
  • Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes never has any sympathy to Calvin when he gets in trouble despite being his best friend, but unlike many other examples on his page, it's actually justified. Hobbes is with Calvin whenever he's planning to do something that will (very obviously) blow up in his face, and will advise against it. After Calvin inevitably ignores his advice, Hobbes will switch gears and instigate the situation either by trolling Calvin or making the problem worse (often capped by Calvin trying to pin the blame on Hobbes when he's busted by his parents). When Calvin is suffering from something that isn't his own fault, Hobbes will be genuinely helpful and sympathetic.

  • The "heroes" of 8-Bit Theater display a lot of this. Thief is out solely to enrich himself at the expense of every other living creature in the cosmos, Red Mage is delusional narcissist, and Black Mage is so evil the only avatar that was fit to represent just how evil he was, was a mirror image of himself. Only Fighter shows any sympathy for others out of the four, and even then, he's usually too stupid to register any need for it. A running joke is for one of them to reference some atrocity (usually one of the several times they destroyed Onrac) that they (usually Black Mage) had caused, only for one of them (usually Black Mage) to either say that the victims deserved it, or that it wasn't really their fault through some ridiculous contrivance.
  • Cad-comic, built on edits of Ctrl+Alt+Del, frequently has the other characters either screwing with Ethan in variably surreal ways or showing little to no reaction when something otherwise bad happens to him. Based on his reaction to the mailman apparently being disintegrated, Ethan isn't much better.
    Ethan: (hunched over in obvious pain) The warlock made me drink potions.
    Lucas: (not looking up from his newspaper) That's what the warlock does.
    Ethan: (collapses, surrounded by energy, with a garbled scream)
    Lucas: That's what he does!!!!!!!!!!
  • Being something of a Jerkass, it's no surprise CK of Commander Kitty would display this on occasion, particularly when he sees Nin Wah sprawled out on a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and immediately starts complaining about how his day went.
  • Collin Sri'Vastra and Fox Maharassa of Friendly Hostility are an odd case of both sides of No Sympathy. Fox was the sweeter natured partner, but was empathically useless, needing to have a person's problems spelled out for him before he realized there was a problem. After being made aware of a situation, he was quick to offer support - but if no-one bothered to explain things to him, he was cheerfully oblivious and steamrolllered their feelings. Collin, on the other hand, was more sensitive, but also crueler - appealing to his emotions was a lost cause if you weren't his nearest and dearest, and occasionally he actively targeted someone's weak spot to demoralize them, as he did to Kitty in the "Pirates!" storyline. The endgame of the story is brought about when these two sides of the same problem clash - Collin becomes unhappy, and Fox moves from being the one person he opens up to, to just about the only person he refuses to voice his problems to, preferring to bitch to his friend, Arath, and flirt with newcomer Leon rather than do something sensible like talk to Fox. Fox carries on oblivious, until even he can't deny something has gone badly wrong.
  • In Weak Hero, Gray makes it clear that he holds no sympathy for those who follow a bully's orders out of fear of being hurt. His lack of sympathy is elaborated on in a flashback; not only did he show sympathy towards the boy who'd end up responsible for hospitalising Gray's best friend, but his classmates all stood back and let it happen out of fear that they'd be targeted next. From then on, he reasons that sympathy is highly unnecessary.
    Gray: Delusional idiots who think their situation will improve, if they just follow the orders of their oppressors without even trying to fight back. I haven't a drop of pity for such idiots.

    Web Videos 
  • Kitboga is a scambaiter popular on Twitch and YouTube. No sympathy is something that often comes up in his scambaits.
    • Scammers will often start out acting sympathetic and helpful, but can often flip to no sympathy on a hat, especially if their scam is starting to fall apart. They will often try to drain every last dollar from the victim and don't care about things such as medical bills, the victim's personal safety, etc., and will do anything just to try to suck in as much money as possible.
    • Depending on the scam and how Kit is personally feeling about the scammer, he may choose to go the no sympathy route with his characters. One of the most common claims of the "refund" scammers is that they "accidentally" transferred too much money and that they will lose their job if the victim doesn't send the money back as gift cards or a wire transfer or some such.
      Edna: Good! You should lose your job after making a mistake like that! You've been working for Microsoft for ten years. You can get another job.

    Other Variants 
  • Many employees are treated this way when calling in sick for work. Places of business usually require a doctor's note even when the employee in question may either be too sick to visit a doctor on their own or not have an illness severe enough to warrant a doctor's visit. Justified, however, in that without a doctor's note anyone could feign sickness in order to skip work.
  • Donald Knuth discusses a TeX error in The TeXbook:
    Interwoven alignment preambles are not allowed.
    If you have been so devious as to get this message, you will understand it, and you will deserve no sympathy.
    It should be noted that this can be interpreted to mean all of "to get this error, you're probably intentionally trying to get TeX to crash or output impossible objects", "further description would require several pages, and because the error is so arcane, we'll just save space by not describing it", and "figuring out how to get this error, and why it is an error, is a sign of your mastery of TeX".
  • The F*ck My Life website is part catharsis, part concrete proof of No Sympathy. There are two buttons beneath each post - "I agree, your life sucks" and "You deserved it." Sometimes even the softest hearted reader has to admit they kind of did it to themselves, but even if the original poster was mugged, attacked, humiliated, heartbroken or injured, there will always be a few hundred people who click the "You Deserved It" button. (though there's G.I.F.T to blame too) Especially if the poster has let slip that they are acceptable to mock in some way. This has been averted in more recent times where stories where the poster couldn't have possibly deserved it have the "You Deserved It" button replaced with "That Could Have Happened To Me". There are also a handful of inversions where people who were clearly at fault still have several people voting "Your Life Sucks" (on top of the fact that a sufficient amount of users had to agree with that statement for the post to make it onto the site to begin with).
  • In Real Life, telling someone suffering from depression to "buck up" or "get over it already" are examples of this trope. In practice it's just as absurd as telling them to "just get over" a broken arm, although provided you've taken the right steps early on the broken arm will usually sort itself out in time, while the depression will probably be something they have to deal with their entire lives.
    • It's especially bad for people who are constantly told their life could be worse, as if that's supposed to make them feel better. If you're truly depressed, you are physiologically incapable of seeing any hope in your situation.
  • Although disability fraud (pretending to have a debilitating condition so you can get government benefits without working) is real, some cases of alleged disability fraud may result from this trope. Consider the following: Bob has degenerative disc disease (a back condition, look it up here if you like), and is unable to work because of it. Alice, his wife, sees that he has plenty of time on his hands and expects him to do some home improvement. In addition, Junior, their son, wants Bob to play with him, running races, playing ball, among other physical games. Bob knows that, if he spends so much as a few hours doing what his wife and son expect of him, he will be laid up for weeks. (The legal standard for disability is that if you cannot work for eight hours a day, forty hours a week, on a regular and continuing basis, you are entitled to benefits). Nevertheless, his family keeps nagging, and he finally gives in. Unfortunately, a local journalist doing an exposé on disability fraud picks that exact moment to stop by Bob's house, with a camera. The ensuing scandal is compounded by the fact that people will only see Bob apparently working hard or having a good time, and will not see the weeks of misery that follow, even aside from the popular misconception that to be disabled you have to be completely unable to do anything at all, not just on a regular and continuing basis as defined above.
  • People with chronic illness often get this trope from people who don't see them very often. Chronic illness sufferers often have days where they're better than normal and can get a lot done, and deliberately use these days to power through chores they couldn't do otherwise; alternatively, knowing a big event is coming up, many people with a chronic illness will lie low for days before hand to save up energy to go to it. People who don't have to deal with the illness often get exasperated that the friend or colleague who used to do so much no longer participates so much and it's common for people with chronic illnesses to be accused of faking it because "you were fine yesterday".
  • Talk to people who have had careers in law enforcement, and you will often get shades of this. Years of seeing people commit horrendous acts then play the victim diminishes their ability to empathize with certain types of people.
  • Unfortunately, this has been known to happen in schools. In one of many hypothetical examples, a student who takes great care to follow the rules (within reason) studies for a test, but (supposedly)note  misbehaves and is sent to the corner / detention / etc. while the test is going on. By the time the student gets out, the test is over, but the student is not allowed to take a makeup test for whatever reason, and in some cases faces having to repeat the grade the student was in, all because the student somehow "should have thought about that before" he / she "misbehaved". This is especially bad if the student was punished unfairly, especially if the teacher is manipulative or otherwise abusive. It could even include another student causing it all to happen, and either getting away with it, or getting them both punishednote .
  • This can also be a trait of "education parents" who expect their sons or daughters to have high grades for whatever reason.
  • A particularly horrifying example: When Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, learned that 19 little kids died in his bombing, he chillingly replied "I have no sympathy for them" and described them as "Collateral damage". Needless to say, the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict and recommended the death penalty.
  • People with sensory processing issues can undergo meltdowns, where their systems go haywire, unable to properly assimilate the information it's been given - a loud, sudden noise, a repetitive droning sound, a crowded party with flashing lights, disruptions to their routine, etc. Meltdowns activate the same parts of the brain as physical pain. They are often met with No Sympathy by people who think they're being dramatic, faking it for attention, or throwing a tantrum to get what they want.


Video Example(s):


Devvo Kicks a Pigeon

Devvo comes across a pigeon lying on the sidewalk, wondering if it's dead, and proceeds to kick it to confirm it's dead. A woman proceeds to call him out for kicking the pigeon, which he tries defending by saying it was already dead anyway.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / DesecratingTheDead

Media sources: