In my life, I have had nothing but experiences. Experiences good and bad, big and small, all of which perpetually and infinitely overlap with the lives and experiences of those around me. It’s easy to want to make those connections in day-to-day conversation, to want to bring your own life into comparison with those around you, because in some ways it feels right to let others know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through and what they’re feeling. But as I’ve gotten older and as I am coming into contact more and more with people dealing with the pressures of the adult world, I've learned that it can take away from the salience of another’s experience to be constantly connecting it to your own. That being said, as I get older and I meet more people, I am learning to become less of a sharer, and more of a sponge.
Being a confidant can be particularly difficult, especially considering that the greenness of my springtime youth was flecked with the harsh winter of adulthood before it could ever really fully blossom. All grandiose metaphors aside, I’ve seen some things. And it can be easy, when other people are going through crises of faith and family and finance, to hear what’s being told to you and go “Oh yeah, the same thing happened to me when I was nine.” I am coming to realize that such a comment, while seemingly appropriate, can actually trivialize the other person’s own experience. They may be dealing with it and struggling now, but then to hear you say that is like hearing someone say “I wasn’t even in training bras when I decided God wasn’t real, and I made it through— don’t be such a wuss.”
Given, perhaps my own life experience and personal recommendations of ways to fight through might come in handy somewhere down the road, but at that moment all that person is probably seeking is validation in their own feelings. Validation, which I have in the past poo-pooed. If we’re being honest, I think it’s a term that has been exhausted by the contemporary youth, nevertheless, it is something I’ve come to recognize as being incredibly important and highly covetous. I’ve personally been dealing with some big people issues as of late, and feeling as if the problems that I have are somehow minimized because those around you have felt the same way, or potentially worse, in no way makes said feelings feel any less critical. Sometimes, when offering a shoulder to cry on, the best thing to do is embody the shoulder, to be the literal shoulder, and remain completely silent and supportive.
There is, of course, an appropriate way to respond to other people’s disclosed problems without being a big-mouthed one-upper. You can ask questions, inquire further, push the person to think more about their own experience versus forcing them to think about yours. I have taken to imagining myself, having never felt what that person has felt, and experiencing it with them as a means of building empathy because we all individually feel differently. Because we all individually feel differently, we also all individually experience our experiences in a way which is incomparable to anyone else’s, even if the storylines are near identical.
Imagine every life experience like a scene, but for every person experiencing it, a different director picks up the script. For some, a situation might feel more Wes Anderson than Quentin Tarantino, and even though the dialogue might be a word-for-word match, the presentation is uniquely their own.