I’ve been obsessively listening to Pantsuit Politics, a thought-provoking podcast with two bright young female lawyers with different worldviews who respectfully (yes, respectfully) discuss politics. Their tagline is, “keep it nuanced y’all.” I love this because it reminds me to consider how many distinct ways a situation can be interpreted as we all witness the world around us with an individual set of lenses. I used to be someone who lived in a world with very little room for grey, but as I’ve grown both personally and professionally I’ve come to realize that there are different shades, different meanings, different degrees of understanding with every story told and every story heard. I feel a freedom when I’m able to disengage from the idea that everyone who doesn’t see the world as I see it has been misguided. Until today, I thought I had made great progress in my ability to step back from my firmly held beliefs and step into another’s shoes in an effort to cross the divides of dissimilarity.
This morning I was surprised to have a conversation about a news headline that I had no idea could even be nuanced. The story of the doctor dragged from the United Airlines flight came up in conversation and I honestly and ignorantly assumed everyone would be as disturbed by the images as I was. Maybe my naivete was based on the fact that it was a non-political story, but regardless of the reason, I mistakenly assumed everyone had been affected in the same way. As we began to discuss the incident I made it abundantly clear how disgusted I was with the policeman’s force and inability to de-escalate the situation. I asked incredulously, “what is wrong with people? Where is common decency?” It was at this point that my dear friend responded, “he was resisting.” It took me a moment to recover from this comment as I can honestly admit that I did not expect anyone to have a deviating perspective. I realize now how arrogant it was of me to assume everyone would see this situation (or any situation for that matter) as I did. As we travelled deeper into the conversation, it was additionally pointed out that the “fine print on airline tickets explicitly states that you may not actually get a seat on the flight,” and that the passenger “resisted and was belligerent with police” saying, “you will have to drag me off. I would rather be arrested,” AND that “he ran back onto the plane even after he was dragged off by security.” The longer these different angles were discussed, the more insistent I became that my view of the police officer’s short-sighted behavior was the correct view and that there was no other way of examining this situation than the way I already had. I dug my heels in. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone could determine what had happened as fair or appropriate. The passenger was the victim and I couldn’t wrap my head around anyone arguing the contrary. Then my friend said something that hurled me over the empathy wall, where I could undoubtedly witness her landscape.
She said, “I guess I give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers because my dad is a retired police detective and my husband was an air Marshall.”
Boom! Perspective bomb!
Once we said our goodbyes, I began internally berating myself and questioning my ability to see both sides. I had failed miserably at my devoted practice of denying the need to “be right!” I spent the rest of the day considering how many stories my friend must’ve heard about simple law enforcement situations escalating to dangerous, scary, life-threatening moments. I spent the rest of the day acknowledging how many times she must have worried about her father as he faced unknown scenarios and unknown personalities while putting his life at risk every day to keep people safe…people he didn’t even know. I spent the rest of the day imagining the times her father and her husband thought a moment was safer than it actually was and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. I spent the rest of the day admitting that I wasn’t as skilled as I had hoped at recognizing the delicate shadings in our individual interpretations of every piece of news we absorb…every narrative we discover.
Recognizing that there was an alternative way to hear and see this story didn’t change my mind about it being handled poorly, but it did help me conclude that our past experiences, our history, our environment, our culture, our family, and all that we’re acquainted with casts a filter on the lenses we wear every day to perceive our world. Having this open and honest conversation with my friend helped me grasp that we may never see the colorful world that lies beyond our familiarity until someone illuminated by a different world shares their vision, their tone, their saturation, their space their hue with us.
That night I texted my friend and apologized for the lack of understanding and for my insistence that I was right. I’ve always thought that I was open to seeing the “other side” but now I realize that there are times I don’t even realize there IS another side. I consider myself blessed to have friends in my life that will help me see the hill ahead and then guide me up and over to the other side for a fresh frame of reference. I am thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to disagree with what I’ve deemed “right.” Friends who love me enough and respect themselves enough to be vulnerable and authentic. Thank you to my friend (you know who you are) for being you even when we’re not aligned. You make my life increasingly more colorful and you make me a better person who continues to grow in shades and hues!