Can we really say we know how another person feels?

Aug. 9, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

Most of us, at one time or another, use the phrase “I know how you feel.”

We say that to people who have undergone stressful situations. In some cases a person says that to let someone else know they’ve gone through the same situation.

Other times it is a rhetorical device used to denote sympathy.

I try very hard to say it only when I know that I’ve encountered a truly similar situation. For instance, I know what it is like to have a loved one in a combat zone half a world away. I know what’s it’s like to have a parent die. I know the horrors of Alzheimer’s Disease and its impact on families. I know the pain of rejection and of a broken heart. I know the joy of friendship.

There are an overwhelming number of things that I have not experienced. I cannot know what it is like to go through them. I can express sympathy and offer support but I cannot share many, many events.

I can also listen and learn.

For instance, I cannot truly understand what it is like to be anything other than a 64 year-old white man living in Springfield and working as a journalist. I can try to understand what is the life like for other people, but if I am to be honest I cannot and will never know what anyone else truly goes through.

This is what led me to unfriend someone on Facebook this week. This was only my third time doing so and I booted this person because remarks made by her and her friends about the incident at Smith College.

I’m sure you’ve heard how an unnamed Smith employee called the campus police because there was person of color who appeared to be out of place in a common room of a dorm.

It seems my ex-FB friend and the people who posted with her questioned whether or not the event was reported correctly and criticized the college student for crying on camera during a TV story. The comments were nasty and seemed to be one step away from open racism.

My life is too short to put up with such crap, so away she went.  

Now there are commentators who have pointed out there were no racial slurs used and the campus police handled the incident professionally. The college is investigating the incident. Essentially it was something that some people believe has been exaggerated.

I can’t know that. I’m not a young black female whose mere presence on the campus she attends was questioned.

How can I know how she feels? I can’t.

I can say that I don’t understand how a young woman at Smith College could be deemed even remotely suspicious.

We live in a society that struggles every day with racism and classism. Every day. We also live in a society that is given the Post 9/11 message, “if you see something, say something.”

In this case both of those conditions apparently crashed into one another creating an incident from which I hope people learn.  

You may not know what it’s like to truly understand another person’s life but you can keep an open mind.

Like I said earlier, listen to someone and learn.

Welcome back Barb

So I’ve been at The Reminder almost 19 years, but Barbara Perry had been with the company for 24 years when she left five years ago for other ventures.

She was an institution here in the very best sense of the word.

I’m happy to say that Barb has returned to the company to once again head up our sales effort.

In the business world of the Pioneer Valley few people are better known than she is. She has been very active in a number of chambers of commerce and in a wide assortment of charitable activities.

She is well liked for a reason. She enthusiastically helps folks. She’s a doer.

And she will always give businesses good advice on advertising and marketing.

Thanks for coming back, Barb.

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