I have a question for you. You get 5 seconds to answer (I’m counting). Ready? Here it is:
If you could tell everyone in the world one thing, what would it be?
Got your answer? Great. Hold onto it!
A few years ago, I published a post titled “If I could tell the world.” In it, I wrote about the things I wished everyone was more aware of. I explained that if I could teach the world one thing, I would teach it empathy. I even made an acrostic poem to spell out the word (thankfully I’ve moved past that phase 🙂 ). But this time, it’s not about me- it’s about you. I’ve spent the past week asking people what they would tell the world if given the chance to teach it one thing. And this is what I learned.
To start off, the responses were striking. Some were funny, and some were serious. Some were simple, and others not so much. But they were all important, because they opened my eyes to a problem that we are facing and have been for a long time: Every person I asked was able to answer the question immediately. Every person I spoke with had something on their mind that they wished other people knew, but didn’t. So I started to wonder, why? Why are we all isolated by things in our heads that no one else understands? And how can we change this?
It’s not a problem of knowledge or communication. Yes, it involves those things, but it goes beyond that. It’s a problem of patience, of perspective, and of empathy. And it occurs because we get so wrapped up in what we want in our own worlds that we forget what other people need in theirs.
So, back to my question. I asked you to answer it at the very beginning. Now, I want you to think about your response.
How long has that idea been in your head? How many days, or months, or years have you spent thinking to yourself, “ugh, I wish everyone would get this?” And if tomorrow, everyone magically did get it, how would your life change?
If you’re anything like me, that “thing” has been floating in your brain for a long time. And if everyone could magically understand it tomorrow, life would be a whole lot easier.
So now what? You’ve identified what you want to tell the world, and it’s clear that if everyone knew it, things would be better! But if we all have a “thing” to share with the world, how can we possibly make those ideas known? No one wants to go around telling everyone they meet, “hey! I wish you understood x, y z!” I mean, I wish everyone understood what living with chronic pain is like. But, I can’t be expected walk up to everyone I know and give them a full-fledged presentation on the challenges I face. That’s draining, both physically and emotionally. So what can we do instead?
Our society is built on principles that make it very hard to support people who are different from us. We are taught that if we don’t “get” something, we don’t have to deal with it. That if someone doesn’t ask for our help, we don’t have to offer. That if someone isn’t clearly struggling, they’re totally fine. But here’s the thing: Telling people the details of our battles shouldn’t be the only way to get them to show us compassion.
It’s hard to open up to others. That’s why we all have those “things” we wish people knew, but don’t. That’s why most of us, no matter how frustrated we get, aren’t able to express the ideas we wish others understood. The though of sharing them is scary. It’s intimidating. But it’s necessary, and we can make it possible.
By reframing the way we see the people around us, we can become more open to accepting and sharing new ideas. By having empathy, we can connect with people who are different from us. We can care about problems that don’t affect us personally. And we can understand the feelings of other people even if we don’t feel them ourselves. At the same time, by having empathy, we can form an environment where people are more willing to share their ideas. If someone asks how I’m feeling in a genuine, empathic way, they are giving me the chance to help them understand my illness. And, by being involved in the conversation and showing that they care, explaining my challenges is no longer the taxing process I mentioned earlier. That conversation may still be difficult; It’s hard to talk about our struggles, and it’s hard to support someone you can’t relate to. But we have to push ourselves, both to share our thoughts and to invite the thoughts of others. Because if my little “experiment” has taught me anything, it’s that we all have something to tell the world. And we all deserve for everyone to listen.