“Subjectivity is truth.” ~Soren Kierkegaard
Probably one of the least understood quotes of Kierkegaard. The most common interpretation is that all truth is relative. However, this goes directly against what Kierkegaard was trying to say. What it means is that people can only know what they know. Seems redundant, but it’s true. Brian Regan actually makes a joke about this that may illuminate the point I’m hoping to make.
There have been times when I was discussing my frustrations, hurt, or experience with someone. That someone then takes it upon themselves to trivialize my experience as “less than” because their experience was so much worse, greater, or better than mine. I believe Regan references how often this happens when people are talking about getting their wisdom teeth removed. See the video below after the jump. Somehow, everyone feels some compulsion to one-up the previous story. These often start with phrases like: “You think that’s bad?” and “Well, you haven’t experienced…”. While I’m all for good natured fish stories, there are some areas that are sacred.
My daughter, at three years old, was nearly certain that the world would implode because she wasn’t going to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner last night. Initially, I thought about how silly and petty her frustration was. Then, I remembered; in her subjective world, tomorrow is not a real thing! Time doesn’t work for a three year old the same as it does for adults. I still remember being about five and my mom telling me dinner would be ready in three hours and me thinking, “three hours? That’s it! I’m a goner and she doesn’t even care! She’s not even sweating and she’s talking to a dead man. A dead man that’s dead because she wouldn’t feed him!” This left me in a bit of a bind because my daughter needs to understand that when the family eats, she eats. We don’t make her special food. Life doesn’t work like that. On the other hand, should I risk minimizing her experience of stress by saying there are starving children in Africa?
Just because someone else had it worse, doesn’t mean whatever your current experience isn’t the worst for you. This is where Brian Regan points out how difficult it could be to have a friendship with someone who’s walked on the moon. I mean, what story could you possibly have that would top, “I walked on the moon!”? None. There isn’t one!
We must allow others to experience their pain as they are experiencing it and attempt to see it from their view. Entering into their experience, their subjectivity, may require us to set aside out own judgments about the severity of their story and identify with this: This may be the worst they have ever experienced. It doesn’t matter if we’ve walked on the emotional equivalent of the moon and see their struggle as a triffle. What matters is that it matters to them. And that’s all it should take to matter to us.
|(c) Nathan D. Croy. 2013|