Different Realities: Love Is The Answer
At work last night a guest came up to me and just started telling me about his life as a cop for the Chicago PD. He was telling me how stressful and dangerous the job was; how frustrating it was that it was typical for someone to get arrested for having an illegal weapon only to get released a couple of hours later, still posing a danger to the community; how his department didn't feel supported by the mayor; how it was so bad he just wanted to get out of Chicago and move somewhere else; and gave me a warning that if I was ever in Chicago to be careful because it was dangerous.
I know it is sometimes said tritely, but I thanked him for his service because I truly meant it. I couldn't do that job. I'm not made for police work, so I'm glad there are people like him who are.
I also shared with him that it must be frustrating to be in a situation like that risking your life in an environment that is dangerous and where you don't feel supported. I told him I hoped he would be able to find a better job environment.
Now I don't know why this man spouted all that off to me. Typically people are just asking me about the attraction or getting directions. I suspect the man was having such a good time and getting a break from his normal worries that he just wanted to share that with me. Whatever the reason, he needed to talk, and I was in a position to simply listen.
After the man left me to join his friends, I thought a lot about him. I thought about how the two of us have very different life circumstances. The reality he sees day in and day out is probably much different than mine. He's working as a cop in the dangerous inner city of Chicago, likely dealing with things I can't imagine dealing with myself. I'm a suburban actor working at an entertainment venue in Las Vegas. But in that one exchange, we connected with each other, and while I didn't have his life experience, I was trying to see him.
I think that's one of the reasons there is so much division in the world is that we fail to really make the effort to see and listen to each other. Especially when we are kind of locked tight in our own bubbles, it's hard for us to understand why someone else might behave or think differently than we do. We become these collectives fighting against each other rather than seeing each other as individuals who come from a different life experience than we do.
I find that as I've traveled in the world, it opens up my mind to the fact that my experiences are not someone else's and that people's everyday realities are different from each other. And yet at the core, we all have so much in common. We want to feel safe. We want to protect our loved ones. We want to have a good quality of life. We want to feel successful and happy.
I've visited places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I've visited Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas. I've visited Australia and Europe. I've visited Canada. I've visited New York City. The people I've met in Petaluma, California, for example, are not living the same reality as the people I've met in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Gay people are not living the same reality as straight people. Conservative people are not living the same reality as liberal people. White people are not living the same reality as people of color. Religious people are not living the same reality as those who may not believe. The Israeli people are not living the same reality as the Palestinians. The coastal inhabitants are not living the same reality as those in the heartland. Etc.
The trouble comes when we fail to see each other, to understand why a person thinks or behaves as they do. Even people that are harder for me to understand, for example: Someone who is unabashedly racist. A child molester. An abusive spouse. A serial killer. A dictator. I'm always curious, what was the life experience of someone that would cause them to become the way they are?
I don't necessarily have an answer to that question, although I do think some of the worst behavior human beings are capable of sometimes is wrought from insecurity, fear, a desire to control, and an absence of love.
It sounds so simplistic and naive—and it probably is—but it seems to me that love—pure, unadulterated love—is the answer. Of course, that's so much easier said than done. But think about it: if we truly loved one another, would we steal from each other, kill each other, sexually abuse each other, try to hold dominion over each other, try to control each other, oppress each other, hurt each other, or destroy one another?
So many of the problems we have in the world today seem to come from a love of self—what I want, what I see, what I know—rather than trying to get inside another person's heart and soul. And believe me, I get that some people in this world make it hard to do that or to love them. But it is something I strive to do. Especially when I disagree with someone or don't understand their motives, I try to ask myself, "What is at the root of their behavior? Why are they acting that way? What might they have experienced in life that has caused them to do what they are doing?"
It doesn't always make things better, and yeah, I admit it comes from an idealistic place, but it sometimes helps me to be more compassionate. What about you? What are things you do to deal with people you have a hard time understanding or relating to? Share your thoughts in the comments below.