The issue with “understanding” others’ struggles

The issue with understanding others struggles

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Harper Lee.

It’s so easy to look at this quote and say you understand. It’s so easy to say that you’re not judgemental. It’s so easy to think that you have an astonishing amount of empathy for others.

However, this quote that was so heavily emphasized in 9th grade, is so frequently forgotten.  I’m not talking about an issue with people judging others in their minds. I’m talking about the problem when someone instantly decrees another human’s personal struggles as insignificant.

If someone is being brave enough to open up to you, how dare you belittle their problems? Stop comparing their struggles to what “everyone else” is going through. It quite frankly is rude, degrading and makes the other person feel unimportant.

Just for drama’s sake, let me give you an example. If someone got hit by a car, would you say, “I feel off my bike the other day, I know exactly how you feel, we’re all going through it,” as someone lies in a hospital bed? No. You wouldn’t. Because you don’t understand what it’s like to be hit by a car. Sure, you know physical pain, but since you physically haven’t gone through this event, you cannot tell them how to feel this pain or what is considered the normal way to deal with it.

Everyone has a different set of circumstances and lifestyles. You cannot instantly create a verdict about how one should deal with hardship after communicating with them for just a few minutes. Can you look at someone and take all their innermost workings into account? No, you can’t. Everyone keeps items and feelings to themselves. There are always more layers beneath the surface of emotions that are barely seen with the eyes and brain. Honestly, you will never truly know a person and it is unhealthy to predict and dictate how someone should act in certain circumstances. Even if you do have similar sets of stress, relationship issues or sadness, you cannot tell that person what is and what is not the appropriate way to react.

Quite frankly, when someone is going through a hardship and you start to relate their problems back to yourself, you sound self-absorbed and unempathetic. Sure, you may think it’s helpful and maybe even encouraging to tell people how you dealt with something, but unless it’s asked for, your point of view can make you come off as condescending.

You can’t expect people to react how you want them to. You can’t expect to tell people how to feel either.

Each individual has their own feelings, their own unique life experiences, and their own pain. You can’t tell someone to not be upset because you weren’t when something similar happened to you.

So, think before you offer your advice. There are better ways to help and less harmful ways to use your words. In some circumstances, it could be helpful to offer your point of view and communicate about your past episodes. However, when you use this form of advice as a way to command people what to do, what to think, how to react, or how to handle things, it’s way more harmful than you think. So, use your words and counseling carefully. Only offer help when appropriate or asked for. And for goodness sake, stop talking about “everyone else.” No individual should be expected to fit into one box and expected to handle things like “everyone else.”

Start using your better judgment to understand others and their situations more. You’ll find that everyone feels more comfortable when you make the effort to walk around in their shoes.