The world that we live in is divided up into spheres of experience, impact, influence and perspective. Collectively, these embodied narratives play out in billions of moments that make up our lifetimes. We often narrate the lives of others as well, supposing that we understand what it means to actually be that other person. Then, we allude to this construct as if it were true. What that other person should or ought to feel, do or be- we think that we know!
In the world of people whose perspective is constrained, muted or strangled to silence, many harms arise from these substitutions. They’re a form of projection of the self and its perspective onto other people. In essence, this substitution of my supposed understanding of their felt perspective for that of others is inauthentic. It’s enmeshing. It connotes a lack of self-differentiation and its impact is to make objects of others.
People on the Autism spectrum experience many of these impacts. As do people who are deaf. Blind. From a different culture, demographic or language. Other gender. Other worldview. Somehow, we aren’t as curious about the experiences of those who are different as we might be. It takes engagement, energy, skill and time to develop even a partial understanding of how others experience their world.
We can only connect to others to the extent that we can experience life in the way that they do. By listening. By learning. By leaning into differences through seeing people as more than the sum of their parts. Because let’s be honest- some choices are disagreeable, even intolerable in our eyes. There are constructs that help to mediate some of these differences of opinion and perspective. These provide legal and social governance that can be shaped over the course of time to reflect changes in the mindsets, values or vision of the constituencies.
Our error lies in arrogating some of the prerogatives of governance to the unjust detriment of others. Prejudice, broken down, means to pre-judge. We are facing people who believe that behaviors can be regulated by means of social and physical force. And so they can. To a degree. But if we step back and consider the truth that the perspectives of others are not our own, we find a compelling reason to restrain ourselves. We simply don’t know what we’re doing to such an extent that we can confidently judge the factors that drove another person to commit a particular act.
We need to listen more and “teach them a lesson” less. We need to look around for tools that build connection, collaboration and common understanding. We need to moderate our perspective more and privilege it less. All of that needed work is best accomplished through a robust rhythm of mindful practices that enhance self-awareness and that foster powerful, comprehensive self-regulation.
Curiosity is a gateway to discovery that can change the course of each of our lives. Creating space in your day for listening allows you to engage with yourself and with others in ways that are supportive and authentic, but that still align with your values. You don’t have to agree with everything that comes into your space whether it arises from the self or the sacred soul of another person. Beings can be prompted by sensing faculties in their bodies, souls and spirits. The conclusions that you reach after engaging openly and with mindful curiosity are uniquely your own.
The idea behind this kind of openness and curiosity is that listening is done less with an outcome in mind and more with a discovery mindset. It’s less about results and more about the process. In order to engage in curious, open inquiry with your colleagues, kids, parents, partners and other stakeholders, it’s necessary to think in terms of “what if?”.
Remember when your sixth or seventh grade teacher explained that reading requires suspending belief? You’re not judging whether or not that novel, passage or story is true. You’re entering into the world inhabited by the characters in the tale. All of them are described by the author using either a first, second or third person (“I”, “you” or “they” perspective.
Think about the awkwardness of a tale written from the perspective of “you”- it’s not often seen in fiction! You do find it in technical and “how-to” manuals and it’s noteworthy that instructions and directives are being given in those cases. The manual is kind of bossing people around and if they want the promised results, it’s worth it to comply with the instructions!
But- there are relatively few people in the world that any of us should be bossing around in the form of telling them how they feel, what they think or what they ought to do. Even the youngest of children bristle at having labels slapped onto their motives and behaviors that parents or teacher impose. Which is what doing life in the second person is, an imposition.
So- how much do democrats bristle at being labeled by republicans? How much do Muslims bristle at being labeled by Christians or Buddhists? How many employees leave positions because the “you” that is described and directed by their bosses is inaccurate or unsustainable? “You” is generally inaccurate at best. It’s arrogant, accusatory and abusive. Because it inserts “I” into the life of another person by means of its prejudices, pronouncements and punishments for simple disagreement. Be careful with “you”.
It’s better to take the time to get to know others through their own perspectives. “I” is self-described, self-differentiated and self-directed. Even if you’re directing after the discovery process, using “I” as the reference for perspective is better. It maintains the lines of delineation between perspectives and identities. Parents can still parent, but they don’t have to judge. For example, compare: “you need to pick up your room or you won’t be able to use the wifi”… “that room needs to be picked up before the wifi is available…”. Same directive, just a little less weighty and forceful.
Or compare these two directives: “you need to stop playing on your phone and get to work… you’re too noisy and you’re distracting others…”. Okay, true enough. But what if, instead, it was said this way… “it’s time to work with focus… noise is distracting…”. It’s’ worth experimenting in allcontexts and roles to see where implementing open listening and more neutral language can make the “ask” of the self and others to regulate well, collaborate well and co-dwell well. Leaving “you” behind often leaves behind a lot of baggage in the form of arguing, disparaging and disrespecting the perspectives and agency of others. Simply listening more and leaning into connection more can provide a richer, more meaningful dynamic in the home, school or workplace.
So- “you do you…” and “I’ll do me…” doesn’t mean that anything goes, anytime or anywhere. It does mean, though, that curiosity and the suspension of belief that we practice when engaging our own narratives and the narratives of others can foster interaction that is deeply respectful, safe and sustainable. That, in turn, will enhance the quality and degree of engagement that we experience in all of our roles and all of our shared spaces.
Moving to observe the bubbles that others live in from their first person description will give better insight and better overall quality and quantity of information. Ordering the inner and outer world is what we all do. It’s work that we all share. Insisting that others do so in accordance with our perspective and values is despotic. Instead, find ways to feel the world that others inhabit. It’s enlightening, liberating and ultimately the gateway to real understanding and wisdom.