And so am I.
Hear me out: Each of us is a whole universe. We are born into this world with a specific body, a unique mind, and a whole story that will unravel in front of us. We are truly all unique, quite the paradox. There are billions of us walking around on this planet, and yet, no one is me or you. No one can be me or you. We each have a unique lens that we perceive life through, a special way that we understand and store all that we experience, forming our very own memory.
I remember a friend once telling me that when she and her sisters look back on their childhood, none of them experienced it the same. She’s an identical twin, and even she and her twin didn’t experience the same thing! Perhaps you’re familiar with the popular show This is Us. The show switches between the childhood and adult lives of 3 siblings, the triplets. And in one of the recent episodes, the family, as adults, goes to therapy altogether. And as one of the siblings starts recounting his experience as a child, what he felt and knew to be true, the other two begin to squabble in disagreement, asserting what they felt really happened. I am one of three girls, there is only 18 months between each of us, and yet the ways that we experienced our childhood growing up are completely and utterly unique. Sure we can discuss commonalities, but the felt sense of our experience is quite different.
So why does this matter?
We so often look at the world in a binary lens – who is right and who is wrong, what is right and what is wrong. We want to know What Really Happened. But since we all experience differently, since we each see through our own lens of perception, we will never be able to find the one and only truth. Think about court trials – a myriad of different people are involved to give testimonials, to sit on the jury, in hopes that with all of the various lenses, somehow a pattern, a story, can evolve that points to the probable cause. My sister is a social worker who has spent years working in the field of domestic violence. At one point, she was working at a place that offered low-income housing to women who have experienced domestic violence. She would meet with whomever wanted to come into her office and have a chat. One woman who visited her was schizophrenic. She would relay to my sister what her reality looked like – often seeing people and situations that others didn’t see. During one conversation, she told my sister that someone was behind her holding a knife to her back. For this woman, that frightening experience was playing out right before her very eyes. If someone is experiencing something that we aren’t experiencing, does that mean their experience is not real?
I do believe that there are basic truths of life, many of which seem to be simple yet paradoxical. There are certain statements like Love Conquers All or The Present Moment Is All There Is that just can’t seem to be argued against. And sure, there are pillars of a common reality that we can agree upon to form a “normal” view of life. But aside from those basic truths, we are living in our own realities. And what is true for me, may not be true for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Have you ever been in a situation where someone recounts a story that you were a part of and as they’re telling it you say, “That’s not what happened!” But to them that is what happened, even if to you it isn’t. This situation happens all the time, we argue about what actually happened, forgetting that whatever was experienced is true and real. And that both experiences can coexist! So if you say something to me that I find to be offensive, I can be offended, while you insist that you didn’t mean to offend. So who is right or wrong? Aren’t we both right? Or perhaps to say it more accurately, aren’t both of our experiences real?
So often we blame, we point fingers, we try and try to prove a point, to show that we’re in the right, that what you’re saying you experienced isn’t what actually happened. But we’re missing the point here! There isn’t a right or wrong here. There is only the truth of our own experience. What is etched in my memory is real, is right. And same for you. If we understood this point, that our perceptions are unique, we’d fight a lot less and perhaps, have more interest in understanding the panorama of perception that surrounds all of us. What a breath of fresh air it would be if instead of expending energy on who is right or wrong, we spent time and interest in communicating and learning about what the world looks like through each other’s eyes. We operate under the assumption that what we experience is the same as what other’s experience, but this is not true at all! How humbling and intriguing it is when we step outside of our perspective to understand another’s. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes…