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photo by Sheri Dixon

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Know Just How You Feel

How many times have I heard that?

A hundred? A thousand? No matter- it's always untrue.

Because here's the thing. Although we're all human and may share a bunch of similar experiences, no one on earth has the exact same chemistry, personality and history as you do. No one.

I see many discussions (that devolve into name-calling arguments) that involve both black and white people and invariably some white dude says, "Hey- MY people were also oppressed- I know just how you feel." Because...really?

There was a thread on Facebook recently that started out innocently. Someone (female) posted a photo of herself and some friends out to dinner and captioned it "Good dinner with good company" or something along those lines. Several of us other gals agreed that we need to all go out soon.

Then some guy chimed in that he was down for that.

One of the women said that sometimes women just need to be around other women...no offense.

Well...

At first he was just insistently annoying, arguing that of COURSE he knows just how women feel in our society and that we were being unjustly bitchy to think otherwise.

So we tried to explain.

That no matter how much of a champion you are for women's rights and no matter how 'in touch with your feminine side' you are, if you are a dude...you don't know how women feel.

After a while we gave up because he just kept on about how we couldn't tell him why he can't know how we feel when we used up a million pixels typing it all out for him and we just decided he's really just an asshole, but that thread has stayed with me.

Because there's no way in hell someone of one race knows how someone of another race feels.

No way someone of one gender knows how someone of another gender feels.

No way anyone but your own head and heart know exactly how you feel.

Ward and I are as close as two people can be without actually sharing organs.

A little over a decade ago we became a cancer family.

We have walked that jagged path and clawed our way back up that slippery slope more times than can be imagined a human can do so. Together. Always together.

And yet...when he's being wheeled back for yet another surgery, waking up, recovering and experiencing the pain and the fear and the whole, "Jesus I'm so fucking tired of this crap"-edness there's no way I know how he's feeling. None.

And when I watch him being wheeled away from me and spend the four, six, eight, ten hours in the waiting room hoping for good news and dreading bad news, and then at his side as he's waking up and the days, weeks, months while he's healing there's no way he knows how *I* feel. None.

In addition, neither one of us can know how our son feels; never knowing anything BUT his dad going into surgery and recovering, over and over again for his entire lifetime. We can't know how he feels.

So when you talk about Ferguson and say, "I know just how you must feel" to someone of color when you're white, just stop it. You don't.

When you see that Robin Williams committed suicide after years of depression and alcohol and health issues and you say, "Well, I've been through tough times but that's a coward's way out- I know just how he feels and I got over it", just stop it. You don't.

If women want to go out to dinner to be just among other women because being female IS different than being male- not in a Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus sort of way, but like this-
A man sees a woman walking past a construction site and the guys are all catcalling and wolf whistling and making less-than-polite requests of her and the man thinks, "Geez, what a buncha assholes" and walks on.
That woman thinks, "Geez, what a buncha assholes" and walks on with a tiny but never-vanishing pit of fear in her gut. So no- you don't know 'just how we feel'. You don't.

We can sympathize. We can empathize, commiserate, project, speculate, role-play and make assumptions based on our own reality. But it's not anyone else's reality.

So what do you say?

In the case of Ferguson you say, "I'm so sorry- what can we do to help?" It's not an admission of guilt- it's acknowledging that a young man is dead and we SHOULD be sorry.

Robin Williams? "How awful for him to have been in such torment."

If that dude in the women's thread had REALLY been a true advocate? "OK- ya'll have fun!"

See? Short, sincere, and doesn't turn the conversation around to make it all about you.

Because that's what 'I know just how you feel' really does. So just...don't.







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