We humans labor under many delusions that erode our quality of life. One that particularly makes my eye twitch is that we are all extra-special, super-unique little snowflakes. Friends, give me a break.
Like most stereotypes and over-generalizations, there’s some truth to it. We all have our own little oddities that make life more interesting and provide lots of opportunity to learn about different points of view, but while our quirks supply diversity, it’s our common human expereinces that gives us stability.
“You don’t know how I feel!”
“You don’t understand what I’m going through!”
“Well maybe you’ve done this before, but [insert lame qualifying statement here]!”
Why is that our knee-jerk reaction when people try to identify with us? Statements like these not only isolate us, they also discount the empathy of the person trying to reach out…and that’s something we can’t afford to lose.
Here’s some stuff to keep in mind when you find yourself in a similar conversation:
1. Recognize the Empathy: It might sound a little harsh and sloppy, like the person is trying to one-up you or make it about all about them, but remember humans are imperfect. Appreciate the effort they’re making to acknowledge your situation and help you feel less alone.
2. It’s entirely likely they don’t understand every single facet of your feelings, because no one can read your mind. Make it an opportunity to explain/educate, not an excuse to shut them down. If I’m every Queen of the World, it will be a crime against humanity to discourage someone’s attempt to empathize.
3. If you are trying to be the comforter in a scenario like this, be careful to keep your “I statements” to a minimum, and make them reflect back to the comfortee.
All the –isms in the world, sexism, racism, ablism, etc, continue to exist because we make a million little decisions every day that lead toward ignoring what makes us the same and remaining ignorant about the unique qualities of people we think are so different from us.
Not making the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes WILL have serious consequences (so will keeping others out of your shoes for that matter). Always remember all we know for sure is everyone you encounter only gets this one life and your existence will affect it.
Isolation will destroy you. An individual snowflake won’t last long on it’s own, but when it starts sticking with its buddies, they are literally a force of nature.