This is my new series on some really basic shit that I should know by now, and yet somehow I still need to be reminded of. Maybe you do, too?
I really hate the song "We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles. Check out the lyrics and see if you can see why.
Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can't go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out
Is that a classic dudebro argument or what? There's no, "Let me try to see it your way and you try to see it my way and from there we'll work it out." Nope, it's just the old My Way or the Highway trick. We can work it out, but you, my dear, will be doing ALL the work.
Now, I'm sure that Paul has matured in the 50-some years since he sang this song, and probably has developed the ability to have two-way conversations when he's in conflict with someone, so I can't bawl him out too badly.
But it's amazing to me how many people walk around with the attitude that others must always try to see it from THEIR perspective, without ever making the effort to understand anyone else. This plays out interpersonally all the time, from disagreements with friends to differences in opinion at work.
Nowhere does it play out more blatantly than when PRIVILEGE is involved.
Like, seriously, have you noticed how completely unwilling most folks with lots of privilege are to even contemplate walking a mile in the shoes of someone with less? Men dismissing the perspectives of women without ever really considering them ... white people assuming that they know everything about racism even though it has never touched their lives ... able-bodied people believing that people with disabilities are taking FULL advantage. You know what I mean.
Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Right after the election of the Donald, I was part of an online discussion of mostly white women. (As we all know, white women voted for the Donald by a 53-47 margin.)
In their grief over the results, some of the liberal white women in this discussion thread started talking in alarmed tones about how many Latinx people voted for Dolt45, until one of our Latina members got pissed and told everyone off. In what world does it makes sense for a bunch of white women to bitch about the few people of color who voted Republican, when it was clearly white people who did this in the first place?? Don't you even try to blame this shit on us!
Maybe you can guess what happened next -- it was not an opening of white lady hearts and minds after they listened to the criticism and tried to imagine how it would feel to be Latina and hear your people being bashed when white folks are the ones responsible.
No, what happened was the white women lost their shit. How dare you speak to me like that! I was only asking a question! Why are you getting so angry at me? This is abusive!
Now, I can imagine and you probably can, too, that if I were a Latina woman who had dealt with various expressions of racism and discrimination my whole life, I might be pissed about the oblivious white-centeredness of that discussion, too. It only takes a little effort to swallow the defensiveness and try to see it HER way ... but these white ladies chose to defend themselves in their racism rather than have the chance to grow past it.
Part of the function of privilege is to shield people from the awareness of what non-privileged folks go through. So, the more privilege a person has, the less aware they are of the fullness of reality -- they are literally only seeing a small, curated slice.
Coupled with this cluelessness is the assumption by the privileged that they already know everything about what everyone is going through. More than that, they also feel they know how everyone else should meet their challenges.
To the fat, such a person might say, "You just have to eat less and exercise more, it's not that tough!"
To women, such a person might say "Please, tell me which laws make it legal to discriminate against women."
To someone with mental illness, such a person might say "You just need to get some fresh air, you'll be fine!"
If you've never experienced having your problems privilege-splained to you by someone who has never experienced them, well, it's exquisite. I mean, the irony is exquisite, once you get past the stabby feeling.
I don't want to be such a person, and my guess is you don't either. Which means that we all need to remember -- if we want to be halfway decent people, we absolutely need to make the effort to listen and empathize and learn from people with less privilege. Otherwise, by default, our worldviews will be missing huge chunks of reality.
This kind of privileged-dismissal-by-default is a HUGE mistake, and people make it all the time -- with big important issues like racism and sexism and also with many smaller, dumber situations as well.
Like not bothering to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're annoyed with at work who is taking a little longer to solve a problem than you would like.
Or glaring at the old person who doesn't know how to handle the credit card machine instead of imagining how it must feel to be an old person trying to figure this out while a lady behind you fumes that it's taking too long.
Or shutting down a dear friend who is trying to show you genuine errors in your thinking, instead of just listening.
I have to admit that I am no master -- my desire is to try to see it from the other person's perspective, but I don't always succeed. Too often I bulldoze along like baby Paul McCartney, expecting other folks to come along to my way of thinking without making much of an effort to understand what they are saying. But, I want to do better.
So that's my challenge to myself -- try to see it THEIR way, especially when they have a perspective that I can't see from where I am sitting. Because when I take the time to do so, I notice two wonderful outcomes. First, I learn something I didn't know before, and second, I find it easier to behave more like the compassionate person I want to be.
How about you? Is it easy or difficult for you to put yourself in someone else's shoes? If you're a bulldozer like me, how do you remind yourself to make the effort to see it from a different perspective? Would love to hear your thoughts, please share them!