One of the things that's made it easy for me to be non-judgmental as I've grown older is the vast number of diverse experiences I've had. Over and over and over I've heard myself think: "Ooooohhhhh.... now I understand! Now I get it. I didn't realize!" This had me quickly asking others, often and honestly: "Please, tell me how it is. I want to understand."
I've always actively sought out stories that were diverse and different from me. At first I focused on diverse cultures and characters within books and films, as I grew older I grew more purposeful about discovering diversity and authenticity in the creators of stories. Lately I've been sure to also read well written books by people I don't agree with. I'll admit, it can be a bit frustrating but it's also entirely mind opening!
As my years and experiences grow deeper and wider I know that I can only fully understand by doing, I can only almost understand by listening or reading, and I can never understand by assuming.
I used to think that I knew these things because I read a lot of novels. I seriously, truthfully, honestly thought that if everyone chose to read a lot of literary fiction like me, they too would know to be kinder and more understanding. There is some truth in this, according to science. But there is also a big huge misunderstanding on my part.
Because trying on diversity teaches us in tandem with the stories we tell ourselves while we learn.
I think it's important to continuously remember this. Let's try on new hats, travel to new places, learn new skills, chat with people we are uncomfortable chatting with (in a safe environment) all while being purposeful about the way we frame, hear, and understand those stories.
If we all got to be temporarily autistic, for about a year, I believe we would grow to understand our world differently. There are some who would understand the challenges of our loved ones in surprising ways and would grow kinder, more willing to help without judgment and without force. There are some who might think it was too hard and focus instead on fighting for some kind of cure. Still some might, sadly, think that being autistic was so horrible it made them angry and dangerous, and so autism must make everyone dangerous.
If we all got to be cops, for at minimum a year, I believe we would grow to understand things differently. There are those who would understand the police officer's desire to help, to be an active part of the community, to step in when others are unable or in danger. There are some who would start to see that inherent prejudice is real and more immediately dangerous in the hands of some than others. Sadly, there are also those who would choose to believe that prejudice is justified.
If we all got to be obese or homeless or rich, we'd understand things differently. If we all worked as CEOs or actors or construction workers, we'd all understand things differently. If we all got to be a minority, the opposite sex, transgender, or seven feet tall, we'd understand things differently. The opportunities for understanding each other in new and beautiful and important ways that bring us together and focus us on the value of our differences and deeply true sameness's would be never ending!
But so would the opportunities to tell ourselves stories of cruelty, gather proof of reasons to hate, or choose to feel fear.
The stories we tell ourselves while we are learning from our experiences are powerful. We don't all tell ourselves the same stories while we have the same experiences. So being autistic would teach us something, but what we chose to learn would depend on how we chose to think about it. Being obese would teach us something, but it wouldn't teach us all the same things. Being rich would teach us something, but it wouldn't teach us all the same things. It would depend on the stories we chose to believe and the stories we chose to tell ourselves.
This story, though, this one right here is of great value in my view: To try on the roles we fear or find distasteful, rather than to judge them, is a gorgeous and incredibly valuable idea.
Read books, watch movies, meet people, try new things, travel to places where you don't fit in, learn and listen and consider and branch out! But remember to do so with intention, with a desire to discover answers that are kind. Actions that move the majority of our population forward, together.
Intentional storytelling isn't lying or naive. It's a valuable way to make our story work, to create characters with agency and humanity, to make history on purpose.
It's my favorite way to tell the truth and encourage it to grow truer!
You can walk a mile in my shoes but you'll get more joy out of the
journey if you tell a good story. It's up to you. Either way, you walked