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What are your bellwethers?

What things about someone would serve as simple signals as to whether you could empathize with them? What would your bellwethers be?

A “bellwether” is a leading or primary indicator of something.

It came up in conversation about the Lord of the Rings; I have friends for whom LoTR isn’t a pinnacle of fantasy.

What of it? To me, LoTR isn’t a bellwether – it’s just a series that I highly enjoyed (and continue to enjoy); the fact that I have friends who don’t like the series clearly says that liking LoTR is not a bellwether for me.

The only book that I can think of that would serve as a bellwether is To Kill a Mockingbird. I think if someone actively disliked TKaM, I’d question what it was about them that made me claim them as friends (I don’t think I’d say they weren’t friends, but I’d wonder what was wrong with them.)

That’s not to say that it would bother me if they didn’t think it was the greatest American book; it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t even bother me if they didn’t like the book – the bellwether would be a sort of dull rage against the book. Someone who actively disliked it… that would be someone with whom I’d question my ability to empathize. There’d be some resonance in their souls that I’d struggle to understand.

But… that’s it. Not the Bible, not Night, not Neuromancer, not Ender’s Game, not Alas, Babylon, not Lucifer’s Hammer; all good books, all books I have on my bookshelf in high regard… but if someone doesn’t like them, I shrug my shoulders and move on.

Each one of them has distinct value, in my opinion, but if they don’t resonate with a particular person, so what? It’s their preferences, compared to mine. No big deal.

I wonder, though: what would you say would be your bellwethers? What about someone would turn you off, for real? (If you can come up with a large list – discounting obvious things like “advocating rape” or whatever – well, maybe that’s a bellwether for me. A large list of reasons to be unable to empathize with someone says something fundamental about the holder of such a list.)

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