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“You Don’t Know What It Is Like Because It Has Never Happened to You.” - Are You Sure?


How many times have people accused you of not being able to understand their situation because you have never experienced the same thing?

“You don’t know what it is like to be divorced because you are in a good marriage!”

It is true that not everyone is going to appreciate your personal trials and tribulations. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss someone who may be trying to relate to your plight in life because he or she has not experienced the same issue. Yes, shared experiences can certainly be helpful to attain a spirit of commonality with another person regarding many things in life. By the same token, I wouldn’t say that a common experience is a prerequisite to a mutual understanding or is even as significant as it may seem.

Presuming the person you are trying to communicate with is a compassionate human being who is genuinely trying to understand your experience, we have to consider two things. The first thing is the capacity of the human mind. Secondly, events happen in a particular time and space. Is there such a thing as a truly identical experience in the first place?

I have never been on the moon but I know it’s damn hard to breathe up there. I do not have to go there to understand that.

On a scale of much superior grandeur, Albert Einstein mentally envisioned a gravitational reality of our universe, which only now is being proven to be true by our best scientific instruments. Stephen Hawking can imagine what it is like in the far reaches of space around the area of a black hole with amazing mathematical accuracy. I would never underrate the power of the human mind to imagine anything.

We must also consider that just because other people have had the “same” type of occurrence happen to them as we have, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they experienced it in the same way. Therefore, there is no guarantee that someone with a supposed common experience as you will have a greater understanding of it than someone who hasn’t. As a matter of fact, they may have less empathy.

“I don’t know what your problem is? I went through the same thing last year and I got through it. Nobody had to help me.”

When people say something like that to you it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a stronger resolve than you. Along a more philosophical measure, what it may mean is that all of our experiences are more or less unique to us.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” – Heraclitus

If this is true then it follows that no two people can step into the same river twice in exactly the same manner either. We all step into the changing river as different and changing people, in a different spot, and at a very specific instant in time.

Who we are at any given time, where we are at any given time, and the given moment in time itself; all converge in a manner that is totally unique. We can’t duplicate it, and no one else can either.

My take away from this is that although we may share some general similarities regarding our experiences, at our singular core all of our profound experiences in life are exclusive to us.

In this sense, no one has been through what we, as individuals, have been through. In the end, if we are going to relate events that have impacted our lives to other people, regardless of their personal familiarities, we have to rely on their ability to understand that special spot in the universe that pertains to our inimitable experience.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”-Stephen Hawking

I believe that does make us, as human beings, very special. If we can contemplate our changing selves in a forever-fluctuating fabric of space and time, then I wouldn’t underestimate someone’s ability to fathom the circumstances and emotional impact of your divorce.

Be generous when communicating and let someone try to relate to your experiences.

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