Why don’t we understand each other?

It’s hard to ignore COVID. It’s hard to not bring it up in posts, discussions and even when I’m doing things completely unrelated to school. A lot of issues in our society (Local and Global) have been exposed, exacerbated and/or created by this Pandemic. One pressing issue that I’ve thought about throughout my life is our inability to understand each other. Trust me, I’m not saying I understand everyone. It’s really hard to walk a mile in other people’s shoes! It’s a complex process to try and imagine life as somebody else, because most of us are still trying to understand ourselves. As Humans, why do we struggle to understand other humans?

We say to never judge a book by it’s cover, but even after reading a book; it’s still possible to make unfair or “incorrect” interpretations. I think that’s just how our mind works. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but bias is something I’m afraid we will never be able to escape. Complaint really made me think about this deeper. High School was very interesting. My High School experience made me reflect deeply on how humans treat each other. I had some friends from different groups that didn’t like each other. They assumed they knew everything about a person because of what other people had told them. Similarly to Hoccleve, people assumed they knew everything about him. I believe his “disease” was mental issues that he was born with. Mental illness is incredibly misunderstood, and stereotyped today, and it’s hard to imagine the struggle he went through during his time. A lot of people in this Country just assume mental illness can be fixed easily. “I got through that, why can’t they?” is a question I hear often. “I’m fine, they’re just weaker than me” is a statement one of my more… opinionated friends has said. I don’t blame him, it’s really hard to understand the mental effort some people need to simply get out of bed every morning. But at the same time, people should be held accountable by their peers for these opinions. It’s much easier to make assumptions about someone than try to understand them. Jumping to conclusions is never productive, it’s taking the easy way out. The community around Hoccleve put their opinion about his mental stability above his. Shouldn’t he be the expert on how he’s feeling?

My next question is still related to Mental illness. But first, I want to clear something up. I don’t like using the word “illness” because I think it contributes to the stigma surrounding thinks like depression, anxiety and other struggles people go through every day. Do you guys know of a better term or phrase? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

But, on to the second question: Why is it so easy for us to dismiss mental illness? Why do people think they know more about someone else’s struggle?

It’s a weird phenomena, but I think comparing yourself to others and trying to prove you’ve “worked harder” or “jumped through more hoops” is something people spend too much time doing. We’re so concerned about other people that sometimes I feel people are blind to their own flaws and problems. I’ve seen people get so caught up in trying to prove they’ve struggled through something; and that their struggle was more of a struggle than someone else. The problem is that they instantly apply another peoples situation to their own. “Oh well I would’ve been able to reach that deadline” or”I could’ve easily pushed through” Are you sure? There is a lot of people’s lives that we just don’t see. How do you know that you could’ve flawlessly navigated the hard day that person had? The problem is that you don’t know for sure. It’s easy to say that when they can’t 100% prove you wrong. Assumptions really do make and ass out of you AND me.

I don’t know what happened to my WordPress but it’s only letting me swap 1 for 1 character. If that makes sense? Anyways, that’s why the paragraph ended so abruptly. It wouldn’t let me put a space in between or and the quotation mark without it replacing the quotation mark with the space, and so on and so forth. I thought just pressing the “insert” key on my keyboard would fix it but I guess not…

ANYWAYS. I think one of the reasons Hoccleve was so stigmatized and became alienated was because the townsfolk couldn’t physically see his “disease.” They must’ve assumed since he didn’t have any physical issues that he should be fine, just like everyone else. They thought they knew him, but truly couldn’t walk a mile in his shoes. The reaction of his peers really had a detrimental affect on him. Even though he was feeling better at times, everyone assumed it would either return or he was just lying about it. They were uncomfortable around him because they didn’t understand him. We’re afraid of what we don’t understand. That fear can come out in many forms. Racism, homophobia and many other ignorant worldviews I believe are fueled by peoples inability to understand others.

2 thoughts on “Why don’t we understand each other?

  1. So much good stuff here! What you’ve outlined could be an entire course in Disability, Empathy, and Identity. Where to begin… First, I’d be happy to talk about all of this more, in class or outside of it. I actually wrote a book on misunderstanding and Shakespeare (https://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9783030035648). Misunderstanding is my wheelhouse, and it has a lot of moving parts that can break down in idiosyncratic ways. (And if for some strange reason anyone actually wants to READ my book, let me know.) As for the term “mental illness,” I prefer to use terms like “cognitive disability” or “neurodiversity.” These are disputed terms, too! Check out Deque’s post on digital accessibility (https://www.deque.com/blog/an-introductory-guide-to-understanding-cognitive-disabilities/) and Dr. Nick Walker’s blog “Neurocosmopolitanism” (https://neurocosmopolitanism.com/).

  2. This post asks a lot of really great questions. Humans are a very visual species. When you have a mental disability or illness, it’s hard for people to understand that because they can’t see it. You hit the nail on the head there. As far it goes with things we can’t see, we’re afraid of them, afraid to understand them, afraid to talk about them, the list goes on. Not only that, in Hoccleve’s time, the brain was completely misunderstood. Take lobotomies for example. Lobotomies were popularized in the 1940s, then “banned” in the 50s, even though they were probably still practiced long after. Ripping out parts of the brain that a patient “didn’t need” was considered okay and medically scientific only 70ish years ago! Mental disorders probably weren’t even on the table in the Dark Ages.

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