I was in New York this weekend to see my sister, and in between the museum visits and going out to dinner and watching Frozen together (the best sister movie we’ve found yet), we had a long conversation about why it is that people seem to think they know more about what your life is like than you do. And we came to the conclusion that life is too short to spend time around people who don’t validate your experiences.
You wouldn’t think this would be a radical proposition, but it seems like it is. To be clear, by “validate you experiences,” I essentially mean that someone believes you when you tell them something about your life and, if it’s something about what you think or feel, doesn’t think there’s something wrong with you for it. I also call this being a decent person, but to some people it just seems to be a completely foreign concept.
“Instead of causing each other to doubt ourselves
we need to start supporting each other.”
I don’t know how we became, as a society, so full of people who don’t validate each other’s experiences. I don’t know how it happened or why most people seem to just operate in this mode without ever questioning or even noticing it. What I do know is that it happens all the time, sometimes in little ways and sometimes in big ones.
It happens whenever you tell a friend a story of some mean thing someone did and their first reaction is, “Are you sure it was him?” or “Maybe she didn’t mean it like that?” or “Why would they do that?” or any other response that is not, “That sucks.”
It happens when someone tells you you’re getting too worked up over problems in your life. It happens when we question our friends’ decisions.
It happens when we tell people with depression they should “cheer up.”
It happens when men claim that women who complain about street harassment should “lighten up, it’s not a big deal.”
It happens when we don’t believe sexual assault survivors.
It happens when white people deny that people of color still experience widespread racism.
It happens whenever someone tries to explain something they experience and our first instinct is to question it.
It happens all the freaking time.
“It really shouldn’t be radical to simply believe someone.
But it is.”
Maybe in some cases it has to do with people feeling uncomfortable around problems they don’t know how to fix, and so instead they try to make the problem “go away” in a different way. Maybe in some cases people never learned how to really listen to someone. Maybe in some cases people are just arrogant assholes who think they know best. In a lot of cases, I suspect that it has a great deal to do with privilege and entitlement.
But like I said, I don’t really know. I have all sorts of theories, but speculating would require a something closer to a dissertation than a blog post. What I do know is that I’m done buying into it.
I’m done not trusting people to know more about their lives and their selves and their struggles than I do. And I’m done putting up with people who try to do this to me.
Instead of asking “Are you sure?” we need to start saying, “That sounds awful.” Instead of saying, “That doesn’t sound right,” we need to start saying, “I’m sorry that happened.” Instead of saying, “That doesn’t sound so bad,” we need to start saying, “I’m here for whatever you need.” Instead of causing each other to doubt ourselves we need to start supporting each other.
And we wonder why our society is so screwed up.
It really shouldn’t be radical to simply believe someone. It shouldn’t be radical to trust them to know their own life. It should not be radical to validate someone else’s experience, to treat what they tell you about themselves and their life as real. It shouldn’t be radical, but it is, and I don’t fully understand why. What I do know is that life is too short to spend around people who can’t be that radical.