An Eye-Opening Experience of Community

Submitted by jendavidson on February 23, 2011 - 11:15pm
How I learned to appreciate people's hidden stories

The other day I couldn't resist reading some of the coverage on Justin Bieber. I guess I was feeling my age, as I couldn't figure out what the appeal was. He's no Shaun Cassidy, as far as I can see. (And yes, I'm sure there were a lot of people who felt the same about my beloved Shaun.) One comment by a young fan struck me. I can't recall the exact quote, but she was explaining that his appeal was, partly, that he "could be anybody". I thought, YES!, but wondered if she understood the flipside - that anybody could be "him", and if that changed how she viewed people she encountered during the day.

Several years ago I was involved in an online community, consisting of maybe a dozen women, who decided to take turns telling their stories. One at a time, each woman got a chance to post her autobiography, and then the other women would have a chance to ask questions or share common experiences. We were a fairly diverse group, and it was revealing to learn such intimate details of each others' lives. After the initial round of sharing, it transformed into a supportive group of friends as we helped each other through all sorts of life changes, some of them dramatic. The group was quite active for a few years, although some dropped out along the way, and gradually the posts have dwindled down to nearly none, but some of us are still in contact, at least.

I can remember, during the early days of being part of that community, looking around at the women I saw on the bus every day, and wondering what their stories were. I think one lasting benefit has been that I can (almost) always remember, when dealing with a difficult person, that they have their own story, and if I only knew it, I would understand where they were coming from, so I need to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Celebrities are fun to read about, but the people we see every day are just as interesting, if we only knew.

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point of view


One of my favourite activities is observing strangers, wondering what their stories may be.  Where did they grow up? Have they loved and been loved? Do they have big dreams?  I know that I will never be bored in a public space - there are many stories to consider!

I have also observed that a big part of conflict is a lack of understanding - perhaps even a purposeful willingness to not understand.  One of my favourite quotes is from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around it." 

Thank you for reminding me of that rich imagery - it's a good thought to hold on to.

- Karen

Thank you

Thanks for the quote - I remember loving the book, but had forgotten that piece of wisdom.

It fits in nicely with a book I just finished reading: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. I wish it wasn't due in a couple of days - it's not a book you read once and put away, so it will be on my wish list to acquire when I'm able. One idea she talks about, which she had picked up from her days of studying, was to "make place for the other". What she means by that, as well as I can explain it, is that when you are trying to understand someone else's point of view, you need to really adjust your thinking in order to figure out what their perspective is. Particularly if their way of thinking is drastically different from your own, you need to work hard to consider why they might think that way.

elevators to community

Years ago I was trapped on an elevator for four hours with a small group of other riders. Ever since then, I have thought that if we all spent four hours on an elevator with each other, we would have so much more compassion and understanding, so much more energy to support each other.

I absolutely love how you have taken the cult of celebrity idolatry and turned it on it's head. Indeed, I am sure there are facsinating and inspiring facets to everyone. I will carry that idea with me as an inspiration to be more curious about the people I meet. Many thanks.

getting to know others' stories

Jen, thanks for sharing your community experience.  It sounds so rewarding.  Love the idea of going around the circle & in an online community to boot!  The point you make about everyone having "their own story, and if I only knew it" is subtle, yet very important.  Not only may that person be a very interesting human being, knowing someone else's story can be a great leveller when it comes to bridging differences between people in conflict... I remember a quote from some wise person (name forgotten)... "you can't hate someone whose story you know."

A Wise Quote

You're welcome. I was blessed to be a part of that group.

I had to find that quote you mentioned. I love the wisdom in it. I think this may be what you were thinking of:

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I found it on this site:

Love it

Great quote Jen. I also loved the ordinary people play here. This is exactly what this site is about.