Doing things differently since 1984
Beginning in my pre-teenage years, I often entertained this thought: What if I had been raised in a completely different situation? Something not White Upper Middle Class, not nuclear family, not Christian parents, maybe not even America? If I had an identical twin out there raised in a totally different kind of life, and I met her, how different would we be?
Then I met my first boyfriend when I was 15, whom everyone said was so similar to me in so many ways, except his childhood had not been quite as Happy Days as mine. Just like a Parallel Me, I thought! After 6 months of dating, he dumped me explaining that beneath his cheerful boyfriendish countenance, he was gay and suicidal. I abandoned both dating and the quest for Parallel Me’s for a few years.
What developed later was something much more relevant and meaningful. Could we all not look at any other human being, and think, “I wonder if I would have turned out just like them, given different life circumstances?” It’s of course a rhetorical question that can never be answered… But I think keeping this question in mind could solve a great many problems we have in relating to one another. For all I know, pretty much everyone I meet is a “Parallel Me” who has been subjected to completely different life experiences.
As it turns out, there is an actual branch of quantum physics which explores the possibility of infinite parallel universes, in which there are infinite versions of ourselves who have made different decisions in life. I’m not going to encourage anyone to go too deep into that rabbit hole, nor make any claim that I believe any of it, but just taking it as a philosophical idea can be really beneficial whenever you meet someone you think you have nothing in common with.
There is of course room for the classic Nature vs Nurture argument here, where some people are hard-wired to be a certain way. I’m not trying to say that we’re all the same, or to puncture holes in anyone’s pride in their uniqueness. I am trying to puncture our pride in general. How could you look down on someone who could just as easily have been you, given different circumstances and choices? How could you dismiss someone’s viewpoint or opinion, without experiencing their life which has led them to see everything that way?
Starting from today, rewind through your life. Decisions you have made, people you have met, things that have “happened” to you for better or worse… rewind all the way through your childhood, where just about everything “happened” to you without your input, all the way back to who your parents were, where you were born, and even when you were born. Starting with just you, a human soul, how many possibilities are now ahead of you? I guarantee that the number is greater than the population of the Earth today.
I don’t mean this as a way of excusing someone’s bad behavior, or of not taking responsibility for our own actions. I’m not advocating that we let criminals go free because they had a difficult childhood, or that anyone should give up on getting anywhere because they’ve been dealt a bad lot in life. We are responsible for our own decisions, regardless of why we make them, and we have the power to make different decisions continually.
The behaviors I would like to encourage are those of empathy in place of judgment, understanding in place of jealousy, and cooperation in place of division. It doesn’t have to be in a touchy-feely kind of way where we’re all linked hand-in-hand singing campfire songs… but the next time you feel like looking down on someone, or getting offended by them, or just plain not “getting” them, take a moment to consider, “I wonder if I could have ended up or thought like that, given different circumstances…”