In the long over due discussions of race and class inequities in this country, it is important to note difference. Without acknowledging that the minority experience is less advantaged than the privileged one, healing can’t occur. To move beyond trauma, people need to feel heard, witnessed, and validated.
Yet while acknowledging difference is core, it’s also important to eventually draw upon common human connection and similarities. How can we do that though, if we can never truly understand someone else’s experience? And does moving toward union negate the significance and seriousness of difference?
This raises the bigger question of whether we can relate to someone else whose life experience differs from ours. For instance, does an actor have to have had every experience of its character to play it well? Or, does the actor find the core themes and parallels of her life to draw on and connect to the emotional truth of the role? Can we imagine what it would be like to be someone else? Can we care enough to? This is the heart of empathy and compassion.
And why do we automatically assume someone’s story and values are so different from our own? I remember a friend once saying, “Everyone has a story. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Another friend who is Latino and Black was once surprised to hear that my mother had spent many years in jail. He had an incarcerated family member too. When I shared, he gave me a funny look.
“What? Do I look too Waspy? ” I asked and he laughed and said, “Yes. You look way too Waspy.”
Yet just because we both understood the pain of having incarcerated family members, this didn’t mean our lives had been the same. On the contrary, they were very different. As a white woman initially raised in an upper middle class home, I had a number of advantages that come with that package.
In human relationships, we can’t ignore differences in age, class, gender, ethnicity, and childhood experiences. These factors shape who we are for the personal is indeed political. Yet there are aspects of being human that are universal. This is why we relate so well to people’s narratives. They bring us together. And all stories that are rich in aesthetics, have complex layers. Strong characters are never one dimensional. Reversals abound.
In drama, conflict launches the story. But what makes for a good ending is when we don’t see the same-old, same old. While we never want to tie things up with a glossy, fake Hollywood ending, the most exciting stories are ones where people connect and transcend. When despite it all, something changes. That is what I’m hoping for in our stories of race, class, age, and gender.
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Source: Selfish Bitch of a Daughter
Can We Ever Truly Understand and if Not, How Do We Try?