One of the characteristics that I have always acknowledged in myself is my capacity for understanding of the experiences of others. Over my lifespan, it has often shown itself as almost a dramatic, emotional response to others, because when I connect with the experience of another human being, I seem to feel it on all levels. Whether joy or sorrow, over a loss, a joy, or anything in between, it seems that my circuitry is totally in tune with it. This is a part of myself that I have felt self-conscious and negative about at times over the years, but have come to embrace it in myself more recently.
On September 11 of this year, I was watching the memorial service that was being held in New York City, at Ground Zero. There were family members reading the names of all of the persons that were killed that day; there were firefighters and police officers in full formal dress; there were family members and friends, clutching photos of their loved ones, throwing roses in the pool of remembrance, dozens of citizens observing from afar. Music playing and poetry being read. Every person that died that fateful day, every loved one left behind, I felt them all while watching this. I wondered what was going through the minds of the police officers that were assisting those family members overcome with emotion; the feelings for the now teenage children who were just youngsters when their parent, or aunt or uncle or grandparent, was taken away. Hundreds of young children lost a parent that day seven years ago. I felt all of these pains, it seemed. As well as the joys in their faces of describing their loved one, recalling that person as if they had just met for coffee the day before……
It brought two specific things to mind, in addition to posts that both Amber and Sanityfound wrote this week on this topic of understanding another person’s experience. My first thought about this, is that we don’t have to have had the same experience as another person to gain understanding. You don’t have to be gay to understand what it is like for me to deal with stressors of being a lesbian. I don’t have to be a drug addict to come to an understanding of the impact of addiction. A person does not have to have a serious chronic illness to understand how it feels to be ill. I can though, put myself in that person’s shoes. I can gain an understanding of what that person may be going through. I can hold myself accountable to educate myself about what I may not know, so that I can have a better understanding of what that person is experiencing.
Ubuntu. I am because you are. I understand, I feel, I am here for you.
The other thought that I have gained about understanding is that, I need to gain an understanding about all persons, even those that would persecute me, or want to bring me harm. This one is much more difficult, but also freeing in a way. For example, I have come to have a better understanding of those that are unwilling to accept my homosexual orientation as anything other than a deviant lifestyle, or immoral behavior. Even though these persons may say derogatory things about me, my ability to gain understanding of their attitude or opinions can help me to maintain my peaceful center, but also to realize that all persons have their own level of awareness, and I feel the need to educate them more about who I am as a person. It may not change their attitude, but it is very freeing for me to know that I have a better view of what another person’s perspective is, even when they do not agree with me. It doesn’t give a person the right to disrespect one another, but it can help to open some doors that otherwise have been closed. This has been an ongoing process for me, but one which has been rewarding the more that I connect with the understanding of my oppressors.
Do you believe that you have to live an experience to gain an understanding of another? Do you have the desire to understand those that persecute you, or have harmed you in some way? How deeply do you connect with the experiences of others? What can you do today to gain a better understanding of another person’s experience?