By Lana Turnbull
One of the hardest things to do is to look at an issue or situation from somebody else’s perspective – to “walk a mile in their shoes,” before we presume to know how they feel, what they believe or why they behave the way they do. Life gives us each a different point of view, different experiences and our own unique ways to process and deal with those experiences. So how is it possible to really understand how another person thinks or feels?
Part of what makes us better at understanding those around us is getting to know them face-to-face. Often lost in the electronic revolution of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is spending the time to sit down with someone and talk about our lives and let them tell us something about who they are – not who they want us to believe they are when they text or post or tweet. How many times have we had a bad first impression of someone until we learned a little more about him or her and realize they are bruised, broken and less than perfect just as we are? It takes getting a glimpse into the real person hidden inside to be able to truly appreciate them and what they may have lived through to get where they are at this moment.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” And that, I believe gets to the heart of what has our country so divided – between black and white, gay and straight, pro life and pro choice, Christian and Muslim, city and rural, educated and uneducated, citizens and immigrants, liberals and conservatives. There are enough sides going around to make a disco ball.
So how can we learn to put ourselves in the place of those with whom we so vehemently disagree, and try to understand their points of view? I believe it takes lots of practice and like anything worth doing takes some time and effort. A good place to start is to stop talking long enough to listen to the other side. Now that’s a tough one, because the natural urge is to tune them out and meanwhile keep thinking about how we are going to tell them what’s wrong with their argument. If listening doesn’t work, try asking them about their family, their kids, their parents – where they came from and what they do for a living. All of a sudden similarities might begin to arise, that make it a little easier to see the ways they are not so different from us.
We can never completely understand what it’s like to be another person. There are some experiences that can’t be comprehended just from the telling, but can only be fully appreciated from the living. What is important is that we try. That we put ourselves in that other place and we open our hearts to what it might be like to live that reality, not just for a moment or an hour or a day, but for a lifetime. It’s the lifetimes that make us and break us. If we are ever to understand each other that’s where we need to begin.