Telling Another’s Story As They Would

Steve Roberts black ink drawing of totem pole consisting, bottom to top, of a person, a head with wings, and a light bulb

Recent tragedies, giving fresh meaning to the terms “Don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe,” are reminders that the relationship between cops and the rest of us is one that deserves perpetual loving attention.  Among the benefits of exploring the complex world of “law enforcement professionals” and those whose lives they impact is the opportunity to deepen our appreciation of a key practice of any healthy person: continually growing our understanding of another’s perspective.  Telling their story as they would, if you will, or at least as close to it as our talents allow.

That this skill is rather under-developed so far in humanland is a big reason we clobber the snot out of one another––in our minds, if nowhere else.  As harmful addictions go, cocaine is bubble gum compared to judging, blame and dehumanization.  Brutality in myriad forms is our daily bread, beginning with those fantasy harangues we conduct within.  And all of it not necessarily caused, but surely exacerbated, by our ignorance of another’s reality.  Infatuation with our own interpretation of things can create a lot of craziness.

Another reason we don’t consider others very deeply is the enormous pain certain events evoke.  Since many of us aren’t very adept at managing pain, we may avoid assuming responsibility for how we interpret it.  For instance, we may deny that choosing to define pain as misery is entirely on us.  As the cliché goes: pain is inevitable; misery is optional.  Blaming another for our misery is a very commonplace delusion.  One result is the disinclination to want to know the story under the actions of a person we’ve already named Asshole.

Except maybe in heaven, the attempt to grasp and convey the experience of another’s mind and heart in response to a given circumstance is a difficult skill to master.  Even when it pertains to someone we love and know pretty well, much less a cop we’ve never met who felt it necessary to take action that resulted in someone’s death, or that someone themselves prior to losing their life, or the grand jury that chose not to bring formal charges against the officer.

Consider the assumptions, beliefs and prejudices we must lay aside to put ourselves energetically in their body, their thoughts, their feelings––much less to actually listen to them, should we have that privilege.  Our unfamiliarity with this practice is one big reason we don’t do it all that well, and instead focus our assessment almost exclusively on a person’s (or group’s) behavior.

Unfortunately, judging behavior alone is judging what is perhaps the least meaningful reflection of someone’s reality.  And when our primary motivation is to change behavior––with no real regard to a person’s inner life––we can easily sidestep cultivating the understanding, kindness and compassion necessary to nurture wholesome choices and respectful relationships.  Which can lead us to employ the most mindless of motivators: threatening to cause someone pain if they don’t do what we want.

Simply the sincere effort of attempting to imagine an event as experienced by another––knowing that, at best, the result will be incomplete, perhaps especially in the case of someone whose behavior we find tough to take––can help us broaden, even just a little, our response beyond knee-jerk condemnation…and the doors of opportunity it inevitably closes.

At the very least it can remind us how little we truly know about virtually everyone (including ourselves), and that the judgments we’re making are almost entirely a reflection of our ego’s addiction to fear.  And while that can be a humbling recognition, it can also be a beautiful step toward taking action that heals rather than harms.

 

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth