I wish we didn’t have to personally know someone in order to begin to understand their experience. I wish we didn’t have to hear someone’s story to begin to change our way of thinking about them. I wish we could believe others without seeing for ourselves. I wish we could imagine what someone else’s experience is like, even if it’s just imagining the possibility of being someone different than we are.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone who has suffered from racism in order to believe it exists.
I wish we didn’t have to know a woman affected by sexism to acknowledge it’s a problem.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone of a different sexual orientation to realize there’s nothing “wrong” with them.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone of a different faith to realize they came by their beliefs the same way we did.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone who has suffered from mental illness in order to believe it is, truly, an illness.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone suffering in poverty to realize it’s not their fault.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone who has experienced grief or trauma or tragedy in order to realize the depth of support they need.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone ____________ (who has had any different experience than we have) in order to _________ (believe them, validate them).
I wish it didn’t take knowing someone to make us change our way of thinking.
I wish we didn’t have to know someone to care.
But the truth is, even as I strive to become better at imagining what it must be like to be someone else, most of the major changes in my own views have happened because of experiencing something myself or from hearing the story of someone close to me. As much as I wish we could take people at their word and cultivate empathy without having to know an experience closely, stories are often what change us when nothing else will.
And the reality is, sometimes we don’t change, even when we have experienced something ourselves or know someone who has.
So, it’s really truly wonderful and redemptive when personal knowledge and stories do change our hearts and minds. Stories and personal connection are powerful. I just wish we didn’t require so much “proof.”
My hope for all of us is that the more and more people we know and the more and more stories we hear, the better we get at recognizing others’ hardships without needing them to prove it.