…to be me”
I used to love this Tom Petty song, still do in a way. It was my anthem in junior high and high school. I’d turn it loud in my bedroom with all the windows open and just sing-yell it as loud as I could. And I believed it. I believed no one knew what it was like to be me. No one had lived my personal hell or could ever imagine how rotten I had it. I carried this mindset into adulthood and still believed I had had it worse than anyone I knew, and no one could comprehend. I had become a victim of circumstances, a casualty of childhood – I was collateral damage.
I’m discovering that plenty of other people felt and still feel that way too. That no one else can ever get it, truly relate to what they’ve been through. Not only is this mindset narrow, it’s vain, self-effacing, and exclusionary. Friends aren’t allowed to step in and offer a shoulder.
It’s a by-product of the human condition to be jaded, shit on, kicked in the face, simply mistreated. How can one person say to another, “You don’t know how it feels to be me”? Of course we do – by knowing how it feels to be us, we know how it feels to be you. That is why we are capable of empathy – putting ourselves into another’s position and then experiencing his or her feelings. How could we ever get through the general suckiness of life if God didn’t equip us with a way to console each other?
I think it’s small-minded to believe that you or I had or have it so bad that no one on the planet could possibly relate. The scope of human thought and experience is not that big and the world population is 6.6 billion, so the navel-gazing attitude of “you don’t know how it feels,” is nothing short of ludicrous. In the masses of 6.6 billion people, you’re the only one generating a certain feeling or thought pattern? I might never have experienced the exact circumstances of your unique heartache, but the point is that I have lived through my own heartache and I know what hurt feels like, just like anyone else. We can relate, not on merit of our circumstances, but on the universal understanding of heartache or happiness.
If you have hurt and I have hurt, we are the same. Why do we try and make our individual hurts more relevant and distinct and memorable and worse? To prove a point? To shun the comfort offered by others – because they couldn’t possibly get it? To remain in a perpetual state of victimization because we thrive on the drama and lonliness of our self-created isolation?
I don’t know. I don’t know why we do this. But I know that I’m guilty of “you don’t know how it feels,” “you have no idea what I’m going through,” and “you don’t understand.” It’s all a pack of lies, and if we’d just quit trying to one-up everyone all the time, we might realize how much more satisfying it is to identify all the similarities in our collective pains and engage in some reciprocal sympathies.
In short, I think “You don’t know how it feels…” is a cop out to naming the emotions or participating in a back and forth conversation. It’s a statement that no one can respond to without sounding petulent: “Yes I do! I do too know how it feels.” Give me a break. People say “You don’t know how it feels…” when they don’t want anyone to know how they feel. It’s a way to hide because if you don’t tell me how you feel, obviously I don’t know.
…to be me”