Regardless of my own experience, I recognize that I can’t know what it feels like to be someone else
Photo of December 2020 Harper's Magazine
“...regardless of my own experience, I recognize that I can’t know what it feels like to be someone else. So I have to make a decision: I can dictate to others what they are allowed to feel, or I can allow others to set the terms of their own feelings.”
- Royston Coppenger, December 2020 "Letters" Harper's Magazine
This has been a tough thing for me to learn. And this year, it has been in my face demanding to be learned. Although I wish I could say I get it, truth is, I still wrestle with it.
Sometimes at a macro level, with movements like #blacklivesmatter#indigenouslivesmatter where I am learning how much I just don’t know. And learning how to make space for all the feelings, including anger, frustration, and a whole range of feelings I might have previously insisted be tempered into more peaceful and cordial displays of disagreement.
And sometimes, at a micro-level, raising two teen girls who want to be heard and recognized for who they are and what they feel, who don’t want their feelings to be discounted because I think I know more or better. Or because I have been there and done that and know how this movie ends. They demand that I make space to feel what they feel the way they want to feel it.
“I can allow others to set the terms of their own feelings”
And then there is that very personal place, where I am learning that I too have the right to set the terms of my own feelings. Where I am also learning to be comfortable and confident and fiercely protective when someone tells me how I could, or should feel instead of what I actually feel.
When I read this letter this morning, something about it....it just washed over me. In a sweet sort of defeat. A whole new level of acceptance, perhaps.
The thing I’ve learned is that when I am not wrapped up in judging the feeling, it opens up the space to be curious about what fuels the feeling, to really understand what a person might be going through. When curiosity replaces judgement, I learn, and I can truly connect with the people around me.
Their own feelings.
Thank you Royston Coppenger, whoever you are.