A teacher of mine once told me, “Everyone just wants to tell their story.” At the time, I thought I got it. But I didn’t understand the full implication.
I get it now… and it’s based on the idea that each person’s story—a representation of that person’s life—is the sum of his or her personal experiences, informing his or her understanding of truth.
I used to participate in an online debate of creationism versus the theory of evolution. I tried to get people there to understand the conclusions I had come to through my own experience on the topic. My excitement about one of my passions—science—and the resonance I felt in the coherence of the theory of evolution spilled over into this forum. I wanted everyone to see through my window.
In the process, I often unintentionally tripped over those who were trying to explain their own excitement, because I was too busy trying to show them where they were wrong. Oh, I worked hard to be polite, but I still didn’t really hear them. I never realized that by not acknowledging their experience of creation, I was effectively denying that part of their story; that in some small way, I was denying them.
One day, I expressed a belief that others negated in a similar way. They labeled my belief as silly and illogical, because their own experience told them it was wrong. That part of my story was dismissed in one moment of electronic ridicule. I was told that my experience must be flawed and that there was only one correct view. That moment stunned me into silence.
I realized that when I dismiss the beliefs of others, no matter how wrong I might believe they are, I close the doors of discussion to them the way I felt that conversation was closed to me. I’m not saying that I don’t believe others are sometimes wrong. But I understand that disregarding another person’s experience can shut that person out. So, I have begun trying to be more open to the stories of others, even if they go against what I believe, to keep the dialogue going—because that’s how we, together, can learn understanding.
I’m not always successful. I struggle sometimes to hear difficult stories. I still catch myself rebelling against others with whom my experience disagrees most profoundly. I find myself dismissive when I’m weary, or I’m hurt, or I need attention. But then, I also believe that practicing what I believe isn’t necessarily easy.
So, each time I fail, I remind myself that when I ignore someone’s experience, whether or not I agree with it, I lose a piece of the human dialogue—a substantial loss. I strive to remember that my experiences aren’t the only valid ones. And when I succeed, I become a better actor, a better writer, a better person. And the conversation grows.