I wanted to take a break from talking about money this week as philosophy has been on my mind lately, actually kept me awake one night. Being a Group A type person that thinks entirely too much, I often think about how people relate to one another. How often we make assumptions about others that we base off our own past experiences that are entirely different from their own. We think one dimensional this way because we cannot truly begin to comprehend the mind of someone else.

Each one of us experiences life a little differently, it’s not just that we have different life experiences, but even if we had the same experience we will interpret it differently, right down to our senses. What we see, smell, taste, touch and hear will be different and our brain will interpret those sense differently. On top of that there’s a layer of our personality, past experiences and even our unique body chemistry changing how we feel about that event. All combining into an extremely complex system that affects the mind and makes a person unique.

The phrase “put oneself in someone’s shoes” starts to sound ridiculously impossible to me. When you hear that phrase, people project how they might feel if those event’s someone else went through happened to them, but I’ll still be thinking about how those events might affect ME, a completely different person. Someone who has completely different life experiences, physiology and general personality. I’m barely scratching the surface about what that person experienced when all I’m considering is what I’ve heard about what they went through. The closest I’ll get to is guessing that they probably have some general feeling of anger or sadness because that’s what I imagine I might feel if I went through something similar. They might actually feel relieved or happy even anxious, any variety and intensity of feelings. I don’t really have a clue beyond what they describe and even then words don’t go very far.

In general we all can go pretty far in projecting our experiences onto what we expect of others. For example, I have asthma, a medical condition that causes me to struggle to breath at times. I can’t run long and I’ll never be a marathon runner. Most people know what asthma is, but even when they know, they still struggle to understand. A friend once told me I should be able to push myself through asthma, it’s all in my head and it’s just a simple problem of mind over matter. Out of some irritation I told him I’ll give him a small straw to breath through while he runs a mile and see how he does his mind over matter trick. His reaction is common though and he just wants to help, all he knows is he is able to push himself, so why can’t I? Even others with asthma will have a hard time understanding because their asthma is triggered differently and affects them differently. I have acute asthma and don’t even have an inhaler or medication for it. I just wait it out and relax on the rare occasion it acts up, but I’ll struggle to relate to others that get stronger reactions more frequently and they need medication on them at all times.

For a long time I also thought I had chronic fatigue syndrome as I generally have very low energy. It’s probably affected my life enormously. My grades were probably lower because of it, I’ve frequently had trouble concentrating, felt like I had brain fog many times. Some days I wasn’t sure why I should live because all I had energy for was going to work and watching TV. You could easily call me lazy because physical labor wasn’t something I did often and even I thought “maybe I am just lazy”. Even when I regularly worked it, it did nothing to help my energy. I struggled to understand how others accomplished so much more than me. Only recently have I started to understand my energy issues seem to be diet related. While I think I’ve been eating what’s considered “healthy” for a while, these foods, like canned soup would make me want to take a couple hour nap and do nothing else for the day. I must have eaten these types of foods often enough that I didn’t recognize 1 food = pass out tired. Today I finally have a decent amount of energy and have a base diet that allows me to recognize foods I need to stay away from.

Someone else I know has a long list of weird issues that were all trivialized by doctors and people around them for a decade. The list included exhaustion, sleeping 14 hours a day, chronic migraines, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, depression, anxiety, low weight, chronic medical issues, constantly sick and other psychological symptoms. Issues that were bad on a nearly every day basis. Their life has been severely altered by these issues that no one can see. People would just say she is lazy and needs drugs for the depression and is simply unlucky medically.

I tried to understand but I caught myself many times being frustrated and upset at her when I knew I had no clue how she actually felt or what she was going through while she looked perfectly normal on the outside. I felt good, why couldn’t she

One day, I did some research and learned about Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that has a huge list of possible symptoms most of which she had. Something doctors clearly missed for a long time. Celiac has been a growing issue with a growing population that vaguely knows what it is. A disease that is likely to cause various cancers in their life. Still, knowing facts it’s hard to understand, right up and through the likelihood of multiple cancers.

We also have the more obvious life experiences that affect everyone. Family, money, friends, enemies, death, abuse. With the exception of people with serious brain defects like serial killers with anti-social disorder, I realize how much people’s life experiences alter their life and personality. How often you think someone is an asshole prick when it turns out they were abused as kids and have a pretty messed up past that was out of their control. How often we collectively create someone with a violent nature, or even just creating someone with low self-esteem.

Everyone has something that negatively impacts themselves and their life. I think it’s common for people to believe that most of the people they meet are pretty similar to themselves with only personality differences when the truth goes far beyond that. Those external and internal differences change everything about that person and where they go in life, but it’s important to me to not dismiss them or make assumptions about why they’re not more like me. Why they are more or less “successful” than me. I believe these thoughts help keep me grounded and help keep me from feeling jealous or superior to others.

I know most of my readers are fellow deep thinkers that may already think about these things, but maybe I’ll reach someone out there to a new way to think about society.
What’s your philosophy?


3 comments on “Deep in Thought: How We Relate to People

  • Great, great observations. Two of the things that I strive to be better at, two of my many shortcomings I am always working on, are being more patient and not passing judgment.

    We have talked about this before, and you touch on it toward the end of your piece, but I do believe we have to be careful not to judge those that have not found ‘success’ too harshly. Not only does each of us define success differently, but more importantly, we have to be mindful that some in our society have inherited advantages (and too often they fail to see or acknowledge their own advantages), and as you astutely note, others may have built in disadvantages (e.g. physiological, physical or mental) that may not be apparent.

    My life philosophy, to the extent I would be able to narrow it down to a simple statement, would be, “always strive to improve your relationships, with yourself and with others, because at the end of the day that is the only thing that matters.”

    Again, great piece that provides ample food for thought … and reflection.
    James recently posted…Investing with Purpose – A SavvyReview and GiveawayMy Profile

    • I agree we’re most fulfilled when we have strong healthy relationships, that’s why I can get frustrated at times thinking about the internet age we’re in and the less strong and fewer relationships many have. I also see a lot of people hurting relationships further in the pursuit of “success”, but I suppose work is a big part of many people’s definition of success.

      I suppose I wrote this post to expand on your post on poverty. I’m also wondering if many get stuck in the middle of that pyramid regardless of income if they live beyond their means. Maybe there’s a different angle and perspective I should take on with the people I try to help.

  • Great to hear that my post on poverty and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provided some food for thought.

    “I’m also wondering if many get stuck in the middle of that pyramid regardless of income if they live beyond their means.”

    No doubt. My experience has been that there are those in the middle of the pyramid – I would peg Love/Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy) and Esteem (self-esteem, confidence, respect of/for others) as the middle – who get stuck, never rising to the top, reaching Self-Actualization.

    However, I believe it is a lot easier for someone to work through the issues keeping them from rising from the middle to the top than it is for someone working from the bottom to the middle. It is easier for someone who is making a decent income to stop doing stupid things (e.g. spending more than they make and not following a budget). Conversely, it seems to me that someone at the bottom levels – Physiological and Safety – can be doing things right (e.g. following a budget) but doing things in the right way will not necessarily move them to a higher level.

    In this example, I suppose this is where a conversation could be had about increasing the minimum wage, something for which I am an advocate. All the education/training – to include that related to personal finance – in the world doesn’t help if there simply isn’t enough money and/or they are victims of systemic pressures/disadvantages.
    James recently posted…Investing with Purpose – A SavvyReview and GiveawayMy Profile

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