When I was a kid of perhaps five or six, I had this recurring longing to be able to get out of my head and experience the world through the eyes of somebody else. When strangers walked by me on the street, I would look at their faces, stare at their eyes, and wonder what they saw, how it felt to breathe through their noses, how it felt to have the thoughts of a different brain. It was as if I was looking at the world through two holes the shape of my eyes; as if I was stuck in a limited shell, and I longed to break out and experience a different point of view, a different body, a different mind than my own.
We all look at the world through a lens. And this lens is marred by our histories, by our insecurities, desires, hopes, fears, and hurts. There isn’t a single human on this planet that has a totally objective feel of reality. Sadly, I have the feeling that 99 % of the time, we mistake our opinions for objectivity. We forget about the spots on the lens, about the optical illusions that our own minds create.
In a way, all our opinions are prejudices. We pre-judge based on an internal picture of the world that is not the same for any two human beings. And, oh, how much trouble comes from forgetting this. We believe that we know what’s best for people we hardly know. We are in a situation for about 10 minutes and then we think that we have a solution. We believe that given the same circumstances, we would do better than the person we observe. There is only one problem with this way of thinking: there is no way to ever know a person’s exact circumstances. There are so many things that build up a person and their life that it’s impossible to ever know all of it and to know exactly why somebody does something.
We might guess, we might have an approximate clue, but knowing is not the right word in this situation. Our opinion—an outside opinion—might have some valuable insight for somebody who’s stuck in the mud of their lives, but to grow as arrogant as to say that we know better is sheer delusion on our part.
I have lately been trying to stop judging others. It’s hard to turn off the critique in my head. When I catch myself at judging others, I try to trace my thoughts to their source, be it to a trauma from the past or to some other contraction of the human spirit. But there is always this narrator perched on my shoulder, whispering stories. Stories about how the world ought to be, about how people ought to do things or react to situations. We all live wrapped up in our own narratives.
And, oh, how refreshing it is to meet once in a while someone who has managed to clear some of the muck from their lens, or, even better, is consciously aware of the presence of a lens. It is refreshing to just be looked at and not observed. To be given time to arrive, to be. There are gruesome deeds that must be judged, but on a day-to-day basis, how about dismissing the court for the small things in life? I believe that this is one of the ways to achieve a sort of transcendence. To get out of our minds and experience the world in the shoes of a fellow human being. It is as close as we can get to an outer-body experience in our daily lives.
Acceptance and tolerance. These words have often been tossed around with the refugee crisis in Europe and Trump coming to power in the USA. But how are we to apply these concepts on the gross level if we are unable to accept our next-door neighbors or even ourselves?