This may be the most useful sentence in the entire English language. It’s the sentence that opens your mind to possibility and opens your heart to empathy. It’s the opposite of us vs. them. It’s the opposite of where our politics takes us, where the stubbornness of adulthood directs our thoughts. It’s the sentence that makes connection possible. It is one of the more important things we can model for our kids, I think.
This idea that if my co-worker is having a bad day and overreacts to something, that could be me. I have bad days, too. I’m not perfect.
This idea that if another driver cuts me off, that could be me. I’ve made dumb moves on the road, forgotten to check my blind spot, cut it too close. It doesn’t make me a bad driver. I don’t have to yell.
This idea that someone who grew up like me, with whatever advantages or disadvantages they had, could grow up to be President. Or Entrepreneur. Or Author. Or Good Parent. Or Cherished Friend. That could be me.
This idea that someone from great poverty can experience profound happiness. Or that someone blessed by great fortune can experience a depth of sadness that is hard to reconcile. That your circumstance does not define your experience. People are resourceful and they are also self-destructing. That could be me.
This idea that people I went to school with have struggled to find meaning, have been unemployed, have been lonely, have gone to war and come back, have gone to war and not come back, have struggled with fertility, have struggled with fidelity, have experienced tumultuous relationships, have overspent and under planned, have overcommitted, have gone down wrong paths, have maybe overcome all of this and as such have come to conclusions about the nature of the world that are unique to them. That could have been me.
This idea that the silly, strong-willed kid in front of me is growing increasingly independent, pushing his own agenda and not blindly accepting mine. That he is joyful one minute and crying the next. That he loses a lot of battles because he’s small and not fully developed. And because of that, small things like brushing teeth or getting in the car or having his needs addressed THIS SECOND are actually big things that are accompanied by big emotions. That was me, once. I may not remember. But that was me.
Considering the possibility that you are like someone else is hard. Especially in America where our individuality is so celebrated. We are a country built on our distinction from what was. We broke away from the narrow views and rigid rules of another government to craft a broad set of ideals that have, over time, been interpreted with increasing rigidity. There’s a lot of us vs. them going on.
I wonder if we have swung too far in that direction. If what might improve our world most, on both a macro and micro level, is the simple act of stepping out of our own shoes, trying on someone else’s, and imagining their journey. It is not, and does not have to be, our journey. But let’s be curious and humble enough to picture it.