SCENARIO ONE: LIVING ROOM
You’ve been invited over to a friend’s house to watch movies. Sitting on their couch, you feel a sudden chill.
YOU: It’s cold in here.
FRIEND: No, it’s not.
YOU: Yes, it is. I’m freezing.
FRIEND: Walks over to thermostat. It’s 71 degrees in here, a perfectly normal temperature. That’s how it’s always set. I’m not changing it.
YOU: Alright… but I’m still cold.
FRIEND: Frustrated. It is not cold in here! Would you just stop complaining? Suck it up.
SCENARIO TWO: ICE CREAM SHOP
You’re on a first date, and it’s going pretty well. You decide to go for ice cream after dinner. As you’re standing at the counter making your selections, your date turns to you.
DATE: There are so many options!
YOU: Yeah, there are! I think I’ll stick with my favorite flavor, though.
DATE: What’s your favorite?
YOU: [Insert your favorite flavor of ice cream here.]
DATE: Flatly. Oh. That’s stupid. Butter pecan is obviously the best.
Clearly, these two scenarios are ridiculous and fictional. I hope that you’ve never experienced anything like them, though I imagine some might have. I wrote these not just for fun, but to illustrate a point: None of us would ever purposefully treat another person like this.
If your friend is cold, you offer them a blanket. If your friend likes a different flavor of ice cream than you do, that doesn’t mean that their choice of dessert is wrong. It’s simply their opinion. We know this to be true, right? These exaggerated stories seem pretty cut and dry. But I wonder if we’re so good at applying the principles these stories illustrate in situations that are less straightforward.
These stories show us the importance of valuing the subjective experience of others—in other words, the way they see the world. No two people experience life exactly the same way, which is why we have differing views on just about everything. Our experiences make us who we are, and sharing those experiences can help us understand one another better, but only if we truly value what other people feel.
When was the last time you took to the time to hear out someone who sees the world in a different light than you do? Not to argue with them, or to convert them to your side, or to gather intellectual firepower to support your views in the future. I’m talking about actually putting your differences aside and truly listening to someone’s heart, their pain, the things that have brought them to where they are. Can you honestly say that you’ve done that recently?
The saying goes, “People will never care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I believe that all civil dialogue is based on this single proverb. Any conversation that does not come from a place of caring for the other is futile.
Because nothing in the world can change how a person feels. Just as a thermostat reading can’t make someone suddenly stop feeling cold, objective reality can’t force them to change the way they experience the world. And just as you would never demean another person for their favorite flavor of ice cream, we have no right to tell someone that the way they feel about something is wrong. It’s not like they can help it. We can’t choose the way our experiences make us feel, so why would we expect anyone else to?
There is a time and a place to talk about truth and growth and moving in the right direction, but before any of that can take place, we must first meet people where they are. We must first make them feel known, heard, valued, and safe. We must first look them in the eyes, recognize their experience, and say, “I see where you’re coming from.”
At the end of the day, we all see the world through a certain lens. None of us has a monopoly on reality. And we would each do well to adjust our worldviews in one way or another. That’s a good deal of the work I’m trying to do in my writing. But none of it means anything if it isn’t rooted in compassion, in empathy, in recognizing and affirming the experiences of others. Because no matter your opinion on their experience of reality, it’s real to them. And you’ll never have any sort of impact on them until you experience it with them.
So here’s to taking a more compassionate approach towards others. You never know what you might learn by seeing things from a different point of view. No matter what, you’ll be able to make someone else feel heard, and that can make all the difference in the world.