Years ago, when my nieces were small maybe seven and ten, and phones were landlines, they and my sister and I went on an adventure. My idea was to go to the Catskill Game Farm, a smallish rural petting zoo back then. This zoo consisted of mostly benign animals including 17 kinds of deer and lamas, alpacas which you would feed little stinky nuggets from your hand. The girls had been there before but my twist this time was each of us were going to have a disposable camera for this tour and shoot the roll throughout the day. I would develop the film and we would have a viewing party for us. I thought it would make the trip more engaging for us all. I thought it would be fun and a better distraction than just feeding fat deer, I didn’t think much more about it.
After I had the rolls developed and we all piled on the squishy green sofa in their living room we went through each roll one by one with the photographer adding some bits of insight and inviting comments. It was hilarious and eye opening. The pictures had a good bit of subject overlap, deer, deer, deer eye, deer poop, lama, lama, lama, turkey, unidentifiable poop. That being said, how we saw them and shot them was
so vastly different. That did not include skill, we are talking point and shoot here. It was all perspective, perception and poop. Yes, I was the only one who took a picture of a smashed Budweiser can jammed in a fork in a spindly tree, but I am an artist who likes to drink, what can I say.
I knew people saw life differently and witnesses are notoriously bad at recounting what happened, which made this that much more fascinating. I thought it would be a lark, but it turned out to reveal more about the people I loved, why they liked what they liked, what they thought was beautiful, funny, gross and how they expressed those things visually. It brought home in the most solid way possible that the only way I might really understand what someone is seeing, thinking, knowing, is to ask them. Even if we are in the same room watching the same thing play out. Our collective experiences, beliefs, preferences, knowledge, prejudices, aesthetic, shape everything no matter how old we are.
So, without asking, I don’t know what someone is thinking, or knows, or feels. Unless they ask for what they want or need, again, I don’t know and neither does anyone else. We need to ask each other what is going on and not make up stories in our head about what they meant when they said they were “tired.” None of this shit about I should know, or they should know what I am thinking. NOBODY knows what we are thinking or feeling without us having the courage to speak it, to tell them. We are not living in a world of mind readers and if we were… listening to our laundry list of mental gymnastics and bullshit is not interesting to anyone except those who know us and care for us and then only minimally.
It is our birthright to feel our emotions, it is our responsibility to feel them, process them, talk about them if we want but we cannot blame someone else for our reaction . Most especially if our reaction is a trigger that has far more to do with us than them. On a side note, If our reaction is bigger than the event, it is tied to our past not what just happened. We are human, we emote. Emotions are important guides for us to understand what the hell is going on under the surface, they portend our actions, and are excellent ways to decode the mystery of us. What we feel and think are important, and it is up to us to communicate when we want people to understand something.
We all are in the same world, with very different knowledge and experiences all of which shape how we move through it. Asking about someone’s view and how they came to it is a tool of curiosity, of being interested in their intent. Listening to understand and not just respond is the first step here. Just listen, ask questions, and think about it. Don’t compare experiences, don’t bogart the moment just try to listen. This is also very different than jumping to conclusions, dismissing someone who has a different opinion because of a story we made up about them.
Listening to my nieces talk about their pictures, the experience of capturing what they were seeing and why they chose it was a lovely window into who they are. I highly recommend asking someone what they think, feel or understand from what they are experiencing even if you are in the same room, town, state and country. Being able to do this is difficult but it is the only way to create better relationships, connections, communities and real belonging.
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