26 years ago I knew, as do most people, that people have a way of seeing the world only through their own eyes. I have been, and continue to be, guilty of this sin. I would like to think that spending as much time as I do with the variety of people I meet each day; the homeless, the working class, the middle class, the upper middle class, seniors, parents, people in the city, people in the suburbs, women and men, gay and straight, liberals and conservatives and socialists, environmentalists and people who think climate change is a hoax, evangelicals and atheists, people living with mental illness and people without a problem in the world…I think the variety of people I meet every day mitigates that tendency in all of us to think everyone thinks like me. Having said that there are some glaring holes in the diversity that is my life; namely the lack of people of colour and the lack of new Canadians, neither of which I meet in my travels, thus their point of view is often lacking in my consideration of how others are thinking.
I guess I knew people were prone to thinking, assuming, “everyone thinks like me”. But the big learning curve for me is this, it is shocking to me how many people live with the baggage of some slight or hurt or pain that was inflicted on them at a tender age and carry this into their adult life and YET they themselves inflict this very type of hurt on others. I just don’t get it! This very week I heard people tell me how upset they get when others judge them, how they feel the sting of judgement all the time and then in the next breath they tell me that so and so is a bad person because of how she talks or dresses or that he is not to be trusted because of his background.
My spouse tells me that most people are not self-aware, and then he chides me, “not everyone examines each and every thing they believe and say like you!” Ouch and guilty as charged! Still, in my defence, if you going to hang your world view on a hurt or slight you received years ago you might imagine that you would be determined not to inflict this same pain on others. At least that is what I imagined. Until now, now I see for myself that often the people who have the deepest baggage about some issue are ready, willing and able to deliver that same hurtful message to others. I find this very distressing.
How does one address this? Does one say, “You know…you often tell me you are hurt by this kind of talk but today I hear you saying something similar about...” Is that a good working strategy? Or does that just bring the person back to the baggage they live with, remind them of what it is they are trying to move beyond? We may be each other’s “keeper” but I don’t we are each other’s “counsellor”.
One thing I do know, this kind of denial over the long-term is not healthy and in a community it does not bring out the best in us all. I find myself being more and more open about my own flaws and short-comings in hopes it might trigger a similar self-examination in others. My daughter tells me this is too subtle. But I am trying. All of us have baggage. Mine is big and bulky. But surely we need to know that what is said about us that hurts is likely to hurt others when spoken by us.