You Know My Name Not My Story
Many claim to know us. The very same who speak to us but don’t listen or see. Those who stereotype us. In this world of quick judgments, patient minds are not that common. Patient minds can understand the struggle behind a face, the story behind the name.
In the book, “Social Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman explains that the human brain is a social organ. Thus relationships with other individuals are vital to our own survival. Nevertheless, Goleman points out one more element, often we are “painfully social”.
You know my name but not my personal history. You have heard of what I’ve done but not what I have gone through…
Those social interactions are not always beneficial nor a positive effort from which we can grow and learn. Much to our surprise, nowadays the deadliest predator to man is our own species. A threat compared only to burning fuel.
Each of us is very similar to ships crossing the oceans. Sometimes in calm some others very rough. Inside of us and hanging from the anchor of that beautiful vessel, our own inner battles are suspended and fought. Battles we try to move forward with at all cost. Battles that make us run aground without anyone knowing what is going on. What stops us or what hurts us.
The book inside: the story no one sees
To put a label is, above all, to give up our capacity for perception. To relinquish the opportunity to discover what lies beyond a look, a face, a name. Nevertheless, to achieve this state of subtle human interaction three things are needed: a real interest, emotional openness and quality time.
We are well aware that many of the therapeutic approaches we are working with focus on the present opportunities, on the “here and now” where the past does not determine us. However, like it or not, people are made up of stories, of experimental pieces, of chapters that shape a past plot from which, we are the result.
A past does not define a destiny, this we know, but it outlines the hero or heroine we are today. That process, that personal history that we overcame with great pride, is something not everyone knows. Something that in turn, we choose to share with only a few. For this reason, the single thing we ask for in the course of our daily lives, is mutual respect.
Let’s change the focus of our attention
Imagine for a moment an imaginary person. Her name is Maria. She is 57 years old. A few months ago she started working in a store. Her coworkers label her as bitter, reserved, and boring. Someone who dodges her gaze when someone starts a conversation with her. Very few people know her personal history: Maria suffered abuse for more than 20 years. Now, after recently separating from her partner, she has returned to the working world after a long time.
“My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves”
Fall in quick judgment and the label is easy. Maria is very aware of how others see her. She knows she needs time. If there is something she does not really want, is for others to pity her. She doesn’t need to tell her story. She does not have to do it, unless she wants to. The only thing she needs is that those around her change the focus of attention.
Instead of focusing our interest only on others, jumping to a quick analysis that leads to the classic stereotype in order to define what is different from ourselves, we must be able to disconnect from judgment and activate empathy. This dimension and not another is what makes us “people” and not mere humans cohabiting in the same scenario.
We cannot forget that empathy has a very specific purpose in our emotional brain: understand the reality of the other to guarantee his/her survival. We have to learn to be emotional facilitators rather than simple energy predators, mood swallowers, or self-esteem executioners.
Sometimes we all fight fierce battles. We are much more than our identity card, our resume or academic record. We are star dust, as Carl Sagan once said, we are destined to shine but sometimes we choose to extinguish the light of each other. Let us avoid this and invest more in respect, sensitivity and altruism.