We’ve all heard the old adage “there’s three sides to any story, your side, my side and the truth”. This is true because of how we move through experiences, and what we look for as we move through them. When this becomes exceptionally difficult is when our experience differs from that of someone that we truly care about.
Take a mother and a daughter. The daughter says, “I feel like the middle child”. The mother has worked vigorously to make all of her children’s experiences different than her own, especially to make them all feel loved and worthy. When mom hears this she feels a kaleidoscope of failure, betrayal, and hurt feelings. So the mom says, “I don’t know why you would feel that way”. This seems like such a simple statement. “I don’t know why you would feel that way”. Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. The reason it isn’t that simple is it steals the daughter’s experience. Without asking “what is going on that you feel that way?” (notice I didn’t use the word Why), it is automatically assumed that there is no justifiable reason to feel that way, because in the mom’s experience she has worked tooth and nail to make sure her children have had an amazing childhood that is completely different from her own traumatic experience. When the children aren’t falling over themselves with gratitude that they haven’t been traumatized and abused, mom struggles to understand their lack of loving kindness.
The big difference is that the kids have never experienced the trauma or difficulties mom experienced, so they don’t know what they are missing to be grateful for. While daughter’s experience may be mountains better than mom’s, she has never experienced the difficulty mom went through, so she has no reference point. Different experiences, different points of view.
I have discussed before viewing the world through the lenses of our experiences. This means that I can see a view that you can’t because you’ve never experienced life through my eyes. What this also means though, is that you don’t get to take my experience from me. What I see, what I go through in the moment, goes through the lens of my experience. If is truly mine, and mine only. You may be able to give me an alternative view-point and different experience, but you aren’t able to take my experience from me.
In arguments I have personally learned to use the words “that wasn’t my experience”. Instead of saying “You’re wrong, that wasn’t what happened” I change it to “that wasn’t what happened through my eyes”. I didn’t see the event that way. When I change they way I discuss the difference I am no longer stealing the other person’s experience of the moment. They are allowed to have the event through their own eyes. I am given a new way to see the moment, and they are as well. If I choose to not change the way I experienced the moment, then that is my choice. If they don’t, well I didn’t change my experience either.
I am a very opinionated person. I have views on the world that come from my experiences as a Social Worker, as a therapist, and from my childhood. Those experiences color my world in a very specific color when it comes to very controversial topics such as abortion, the death penalty, gun control, welfare, and politics, . People may guess what I believe on the above topics based on blogs, on sessions with me and even based on our relationships, but until you ask me “What have you experienced that leads you to you believe what you believe?”, you won’t know what I think or why. There are reasons the above are very controversial. Each of us has had experiences that have led us to have an opinion. The difficulty is when we close ourselves off to other’s opinions, or treat those that may not have the knowledge that we have as idiots. That leads to defensiveness and lack of knowledge exchange. Instead we need to ask not only ourselves but others “what leads you to that belief?”.
We all have very good reasons for our beliefs. Telling another that their experience is wrong will probably get you some very dirty looks at the least. The person may stop arguing just to get you to shut-up, but they won’t change their mind. Instead ask “What is going on that leads you to that experience”. You don’t have to like their answer, but at least listen.