My wife and I watched an amazing movie a few nights ago and I cannot recommend it enough. The movie "Room" is based on the book of the same name by Emma Donoghue. It wonderfully captures the impact of imagination, sacrifice, human resilience and love.
I'm going to try to do this without giving away any spoilers.
Room tells the story of 5 year old Jack, a boy who was born inside a tiny room and has never been outside of it. He has a television, but has no real concept of the world. He has only interacted with his mother, who has been a prisoner in this room for the last seven years.
Jack is the narrator of the story and the author did an amazing job of showing how Jack views "the world." He doesn't really understand that there is anything outside of the room. Even with his television, he has trouble understanding the concepts of real versus pretend. Many children of his age struggle with this, but he has bigger obstacles to overcome. He often gets angry when his mother tries to explain things to him, because he has no real-world experience to base anything on.
However, the real story is not inside the room. It's all about what happens once they get out. Watching Jack experience the world for the first time. Seeing him struggle with seeing things in three-dimensions that he had only seen on television before. Learning how to interact with other people. Seeing how his imagination is different from other children his age.
However, the scene that keeps replaying in my mind Jack wasn't even in. It revolved around his mother. A person asks her a question about why she made one of the choices that she made while captive. This question made me angry for the mother. It was a legitimate question. I can understand why someone would wonder, but it was asked with a judging tone. All I could think was, "Lady, you weren't there?" She made the best decisions that she could based upon the situation she was in and the knowledge that she had.
I can't help but apply this to real life. How many times have I looked at someone and thought "how could they?"
People's actions, attitudes and words are very, very rarely dictated solely by the circumstances of the present moment. When I see someone doing something that I disagree with, I am only seeing it through my perspective, based on my knowledge, through the lens of my background and experiences, and using my culture, family upbringing and traditions to color how I perceive the situation. We all do this.
I'm not suggesting that there is no right and wrong and that it is all relative, but I am saying that we need to give each other a lot more benefit of the doubt. In the movie, people would often get frustrated with Jack when he would not respond to things in an "appropriate" manner, but there was a very good reason for his behaviors.
When I was teaching, I had a very disruptive student. He was not mean, he was just very loud and seemed to have no concept of other's feelings or taking turns. It was difficult to work with him. Later, I met his family and quickly understood why he did the things he did. It's all he knew. He wasn't being mean or even rude. He was acting in the way that had been modeled for him since birth. He had no idea that his behavior was inappropriate. Just having this perspective made my job easier and I was able to be more understanding with him and help him to adjust to life outside of his home.
These issues don't just occur with "problem" situations. Sometimes, it may be a cultural difference. The Chinese consider looking into the eyes of a person to be extremely rude. In the U.S., we are taught that not looking into the eyes of the person you are talking to is rude. So, often when people of these cultures meet, they think we are being too assertive and we think they aren't paying attention and both sides consider the other rude.
The reason my ex-mother-in-law was so scared of everything was because she was raised by a woman whose father was the chief of police at a very dangerous time and took down a major criminal. Their household received death threats all the time and they lived under fear of arson, kidnapping, and murder. Her fear was learned from a very young age. Other people just deciding that she is a chicken creates barriers instead of relationships.
The complexities of human behavior can not usually be broken down very simply, but we could all try to be a little more understanding. When a person is in disagreement with you (or me) about how to do something, it doesn't mean they're stupid. It just means they have a different mindset and bank of past experiences. We can even apply this to the political process of today.
Regardless of how you feel about any of the candidates running for president, it is not true that all of the followers of __________ are morons. It doesn't mean they are racists, socialists, hate-filled, naive, feminists, or any other labels we may want to apply to them. It just means that they see some qualities in the candidate that ring true for them because of their view of the world.
We are never going to agree with anyone 100% of the time, but we can choose how we react to disagreements and how we treat other people. Maybe if we spent a little more time working on relationships, the world would make more sense. The more we get to know and understand others, the wider our perspective becomes.