Self-pity is a state that is almost impossible to maintain once you begin to suspect that someone else is worse off.
That’s probably why it can be so difficult to look the homeless in the eye. Most of us probably feel a little sorry for ourselves much of the time. We typically mask our self-pity with of sense of entitlement. A homeless person, a person with no relevant present and no hope for a future, can shake the foundations upon which self-pity—-or its costumed façade, entitlement—-rests. Self-pity is a private affair, and cannot be shared or divided among others who are suffering any similar affliction. Self-pity requires careful isolation from the rest of mankind, a cultivated ignorance of the state of other people, the ability to turn a blind eye. One cannot share their self-pity, or parcel it out amongst likewise suffering comrades. That’s why people in crises, say, during war, are able to act in amazingly selfless ways. It’s because they are not able to maintain the level of self-pity required for inaction. So they throw themselves on a hand grenade or give their last drop of water to a thirsty stranger. But under more normal conditions, self-pity can be a useful tool. Like its relative, greed, it can serve as a conduit through which to channel daily activity in ways that lead to a temporary improvement in personal circumstances.