Monday, June 30, 2014

Your Experience Doesn't Invalidate Mine

Lately, I've been having this issue. It has to do with being wrong. Or not being wrong, more specifically. Let me give you an example.

I'm in a book club. My book club read a book. It was supposed to be funny. I didn't think it was. For one thing, the story revolved around a broken marriage and a stillborn son. And I am all about finding the funny, but you've got to work pretty hard to make dead babies funny to me. That's all I'm saying.

For another, it was just... crass? I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it wasn't my brand of humor. I didn't mind the profanity, the sex, the innappropriateness... It just wasn't funny. It was all cheap shots and shock value. And you know what? That's okay. I don't have to love every book I read. I mean, I'd like to, but I'll live. And it was a good enough story, more or less, it just wasn't funny to me. I'm sure it was to other people. In fact, if my book club is to be believed, it's funny to everyone everywhere but me.

And that's where this issue came into play. Most everyone there listened to my point of view and accepted it. Sorry you didn't like it, yadda yadda. Fine, fine. But one woman flat out informed me that I was wrong. "It is funny," she said, "even if you didn't get it."

Now let me make something clear here, "getting it" isn't my problem. I get it. Really, there's not much to get. It's not like it's some sort of deep, philosophical kind of humor. I just didn't think it was funny.

And it's a little thing. Really it is. I'm over it. It's just that it's brought home something that has been bothering me in the grander scheme for a while now. I read the book. I had an experience. My experience was that it wasn't funny. It doesn't matter how funny you think it is, that doesn't change my experience. And me dragging my way through 350 pages without even cracking a smile doesn't change your experience. You can think it's funny. That's allowed.

This whole #yesallwomen and "Not all Men" thing speaks to that, too. People want to say "Well, I've never catcalled a woman, so that just doesn't happen anymore," or "I don't personally know anyone who talks about being raped, so that's not really a problem," or "I don't think women are treated any differently than men." Your experience does not invalidate mine (or the statistical facts, in this case). And then the pendulum swings, "All men are pigs," or "Guys can't understand what it's like to be sexually abused," or "Men just aren't victimized like that." And that's wrong, too. For the exact same reason.

Look, I get it. You've never been anyone else. You don't know what it's like to be a different nationality, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic class. All you have is your own perspective and that makes it hard to see that other people are experiencing things differently. But for the love of pants, accept that.

Don't tell people they are wrong unless it's a verifiable fact and you have evidence. It's okay to say, "No, gravity is what holds us to the Earth, not sticky glue on our shoes." It's not okay to tell someone that they have not really experienced what they say they have experienced. So much in our world is a matter of opinion and perspective.

Next time someone says something you want to argue about, instead of jumping in with all the ways in which they are wrong, why not try listening. You might just find that understanding other people's experiences changes yours.


Suze said...

Hear, hear!! I've experienced this a lot, especially in the "There's something wrong with you because you didn't find X/Y/Z funny."

Sharon said...

Don't know what the book was......but with what you said broken marriage and still born babies...........who would think any of that was funny and they should be more respectful of your opinion!

then to add a touch of my second language......So you didn't like the book? Sarcasm
Me Love ya

Jessi said...

Suze - Thank you!

Sharon - I feel like I should clarify, the "funny" parts weren't really about the stillborn baby, more about the divorce and everything, but it was just too emotional for me, I think. And, no, I didn't really like the book. :)