People are People, Just Like You

Hello, and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is a reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

People are simple, and stupid, and complex, and feeling, and wise, and fallible, and beautiful, and dark, and ugly, and so much more than we can ever convey with words. We know this because we know ourselves and deep down we know other people feel and think and go through what do, even though we rarely act like it.

We know we have rich inner lives, profound thoughts and feelings, shades of emotions, wants, and needs that language can scratch the surface of. We know there are reasons behind everything we do that rarely ever fall fully to one side of good or bad, selfless or selfish. There are more shades of human motivation and reason than there are stars in the universe or grains of sand on every beach but humans aren’t good with subtle shades of being or thinking.

We know that our psyches are deep and varied and we know that because of this, because every thought and action and all that we are is a product of all we have been through and sometimes all that many generations before us have been through, we know we are deserving of understanding and patience. Somehow, we know this, but at the same time, we know that other people are simple beings with simple and often nefarious motivations for doing what they do.

We forget that people are people, all over the world and all throughout time, same as we are.

They have the same thoughts, the same questions, the same failings and triumphs, the same daily, grueling, inner struggle between who they are and who they ought to be. They share the same complex inner life and painfully vague understanding of why they do what they do. They are hurt and hoping and fucking up, and we should be working harder to understand their needs and motivations, the way we would ask them to do for us.

We are too quick categorize and condemn each other in ways that are radically different from how we think of ourselves. They are mean. They don’t care. They aren’t good enough. They are stupid. They are trying intentionally to sabotage and set me back. They are the enemy, but it isn’t so simple. They are human, and so are we, and they do all the things they do for the same reasons as us. Because they don’t know any better.

 

Of course, in all the ways we are the same, there are as many ways in which we are different, and that is where the work of understanding happens. Besides the fact that we all come from different places and were born in different times, besides the fact that each of our parents was raised in a time with different struggles and different values, besides the fact that no two perspectives can ever be the same, we all simply have very different brains. We have different thoughts, needs, motivations, wants, and ideas about right and wrong and every shade in between.

Even on our best days, when we are listening well and using language as precisely as we can, no human language is articulate or exact enough to ever explain who we are, what we feel, and what our motivations and reasons may be. Each of us no matter how we reach out and to how many is alone within our own minds. We can never be understood and we can never fully understand, but we can try harder, and do better, and stop treating each other like simple beings and react with simpler solutions and emotions.

This week, before you judge who is right and who is wrong, who is worth listening to, and who is worth compassionate understanding, or friendship, just know that each person you encounter is a complex mix of history, culture, experience, emotion, and wisdom that you will never fully comprehend.

We owe it to ourselves to treat one another better. To owe it to each other to understand each other better. To step into each other’s shoes isn’t so hard when you stop acting as if you are the only one who can be right, who can be hurt, who can have needs, or can make mistakes.

This week, try to understand that you have no right to presume to know who a person is, why they do what they do, how they ought to act, or what help they need or don’t. Get to know people and do the hard work of letting them exist on a spectrum rather than at the easy to categorize extremes.

This world has become far too black and white, I’d love to see some grays, and one day, when we are better people than we are now, we might even be comfortable with color and hue and brightness too.

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Featured image via Unsplash

The Importance of Sonder

The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

Do people, feeling, and lives exist when I cannot see them? Is anything important that is not important to me? Do people love, and hurt, and hope, and cry as much as I do? Do they think stupid thoughts and hear a voice that is theirs but isn’t theirs inside their heads? Telling them when to feel embarrassed or pathetic? Do others really day dream and wish for lives they can never live?

I people watch and I wonder what they feel when they go to bed at night. I wonder what they think about in the shower or what they wish for when they blow out their birthday candles. Part of me wants to know if what I do, and think, and feel is normal. Part of me has this crazy idea that no one else think or feels like I do. It’s seems too crazy an idea that there are whole stories and lives, just as complex as mine, going on all around me.

The amount of emotion and thought happening all at once, all over this world, is more than I can fathom.

Object permanence is the concept that a being can understand that objects exist even when they cannot be seen. But what if an object has never been seen? What if a feeling has never been felt? How can I ever know other people are as real as me if I have never felt what it is like to be other people?

Another part of this is my natural ego-centrism. I can never get out of my own viewpoint so it’s difficult for me to imagine any other way. I am the center of my story, the only story there is, as far as I am concerned. But every so often something clicks in my mind, the world shifts, and I clearly see, for just a moment, that everyone has the same story too.

There is no official English word to describe this feeling. Considering how strong and important a feeling it is I am surprised there isn’t. There is a new word though, “sonder”,  coined by John Koeing for his “Dictionary of Obscure Words, but it has not yet entered the greater public’s lexicon. I think it should though. If you’ve felt it you know it is a powerful thing, an overwhelming emotion, and can, for just a moment, change your view of the whole human race.

When it clicks, when sonder hits, it really is like being connected to every other person you can see. You can see that all around you epic and complex stories are being lived, only you are not a part of them. You will never even know them. You are nothing but an extra, a character in the background never to be seen or heard from again.

If it’s particularly strong, you feel it for the whole planet and your heart swells up in your chest and you suffocate with under it. You are overwhelmed by the the sheer amount of humaness walking around on this Earth.

If you’ve never felt it I urge you to go to a park, or a mall, or some other populated place and think about the fact that every person you pass feels, thinks, and dreams the same as you. The are complicated in all the ways you are and they are just as misunderstood. They have families and they fall in and out of love. They are hurting, they feel lost and scared, they try to be brave, just like you. They are nothing but extras in your story too and they will never be privy to the epic tale you are living either.

Think about that for a short time and you will feel it mixed in with a little love and a little sadness for each passerby, for all the hope and suffering they will endure.

Just like you.

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Featured image: The Nitty Gritty Rather Pretty…. by Devin Smith

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Maya Angelou

Continuing the theme for Black History month, this weeks Writer’s Quote Wednesday is dedicated to the iconic Maya Angelou. I’d wanted to do a Writer’s Quote post on Maya for a long time but I was afraid that I couldn’t do her justice, but after tackling W.E.B. Du Bois last week I feel a little more comfortable.

I doubt there is anyone out there who has not at least heard of Maya Angelou and is aware of how influential she is. She was a great author and poet, and also a dancer, singer, and an actress. She is best known for her autobiographies but there were many more essays, poems, plays. According to Wikipedia she has received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees!

As a participant in the civil rights movement she was close with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. She described her relationship with Malcolm X as a brother/sister relationship and was devastated after his death. She had agreed to work with Dr. King just before his assassination, on her birthday. She stopped celebrating her birthday for years after, choosing instead to send flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.

Her death last year saddened me deeply. I won’t pretend to have been a follower of all her works or to have know much about her before writing this but I did know she was a great woman and I did know she was an amazing writer. I knew that the world had lost someone who could never be replaced. There will never be another Maya Angelou.

As a young girl I read her first autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which covers her early childhood and her teenage years up until about the age of 17. I feel in love immediately with her easy writing style and her courage. The way wrote so openly and bluntly about her abuse and hardships was something to admire. The way she overcame her abuse and hardships to become a great writer is something to be in awe of.

When I am writing I am trying to figure out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness.

— Maya Angelou

This quote definitely speaks to the writer in me. The reason I am drawn to writing is to use it to work out this weird thing we call the human condition. We are all so different from each other and yet so alike. We know so much about the brain but nothing of the spirit. Why is it that we do the things that we do? The human condition is to suffer and yet we rise again and again, why? Who are we? What are we? These question plague my mind, they always have.

It is through writing that I hope to answer these questions for myself. I know I probably won’t come to very many conclusions but even the act of asking the question fulfills me and gives me hope. I think us humans are an interesting animal and we may turn out to be something special after all. But even if we aren’t, and I find we aren’t very important in the grand scheme of things after all, that, to me, would be just as interesting too.