This I Believe

Jack - Wellesley, Massachusetts
Entered on March 8, 2009

The saying “you can never really understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes” has been around for ages, but to me it makes no sense. Sure, if one could actually walk in another’s shoes then maybe they would achieve understanding, but that is impossible. People can never fully grasp each other’s reasons for their emotions or actions. Attempting to understand someone can lead to making assumptions about them. This leads to unfair classifications and failed sympathy, even though this is rarely intended. One can never truly understand the experiences of others; we can only interpret the facts as they occurred.

I hadn’t dealt with unfair classification until last year, or I had at least ignored classification as it pertained to me. Somehow, I ended up hanging out with a kid because we had one mutual friend. I was not friends nor did I intend on being friends with him. I was giving him a ride to someone’s house and the entire time he was stating mild stereotypes, rather inoffensive yet still obnoxious. He then got to me with, “Yeah, you’re that kid, that kid that wears converse and is into music. Yeah, I know, you’re that kind of kid”. I suppose those are all facts and he wasn’t insulting me. But he assumed that by shoving me into a category he could understand my entire life. However, everyone is far too unique for anything of that sort. People often get quick snapshots of others and feel as though they can inhabit their soul based on these superficial observations. As awful as it may sound, classifying others is one of the most natural things we can do as humans. There is a certain indescribable power when one feels like they know everything about a person.

Amidst this economic crisis, three of my uncles have lost their jobs. While this has not affected me directly, my family and I have been affected as bystanders. We have all been very supportive and empathetic, but our major flaw was attempting to understand what my uncles and their families were going through; we couldn’t truly identify with them. This realization holds a heavy contrast to the previous example. While the friend that wasn’t really my friend was quick to classify others without any regard for their lives, my family was trying really hard to reach out, without success. We wanted to understand so we could help our relatives, but we could only perceive the facts as they occurred. Even if my parents lost their jobs as well, I still wouldn’t be able to truly comprehend my relatives’ unique situation.

It bothers me when people say “I know how you feel”. At most, one can feel badly because they see me feeling badly, but they can’t know what I’m going through. By all means, express empathy for those that are in need of it, showing compassion really does help others feel better. Just realize that complete understanding is unreachable.