The World Is More Than Your Experiences

It seems that it’s far too easy for people to fall into thinking that their experiences and the way they look at life because of them are universal. (Thinking that they should be universal is a whole other fallacy that I may have to speak to at another time.)

This is a view that inevitably leads to judgement, a false sense of superiority, and a lack of compassion that feeds the beasts of every -ism out there as the person espousing the belief conjures up reasons why others are failing where they have succeeded (or could succeed, if only they cared to try).

Ironically, I hear this ideal expressed most often in an ostensibly positive way.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” they say, as a means of encouragement.

That sentiment is not only patently wrong, but it wrongs everyone involved in its utterance.

First of all, it lessens whatever accomplishments the speaker is laying claim to. If anyone can do what you did, it isn’t an accomplishment at all. It’s table stakes, at best. Less than ordinary, and in no way impressive or admirable — though it is more often than not presented as such in any other context in which the person speaks about it.

You made a million bucks in the stock market? Built a business from scratch? Wrote a novel? Created an app? Rebuilt the engine in your car? Put a roof on your house?

Bravo. Seriously. Because all of those are impressive and noteworthy accomplishments.

And not a single one is doable by anyone just because you can do it. Not even close.

Because not everyone has the specific and wide-ranging skills necessary to do any of those things. Not everyone has the experiences necessary to accomplish them. Because the world is more than your experiences. Rather, it is the unique experiences of billions of individual people living different lives and experiencing different things (even when witnessing or going through some broadly unifying event or moment in history). Our respective lives and experiences often overlap to great degrees – that’s what cultures are made of — but they are never the same.  

On the other hand, the person to whom this platitude is directed is generally diminished by it. There is inherent judgement in the statement, and the recipient is in some way found lacking for not being able to do what the speaker can. Even if the recipient hasn’t yet begun the pursuit of the accomplishment at hand yet, this statement lets them know that they aren’t as good as the speaker if they find themselves unable to get it done.

But that again ignores the basic truth that everyone is different, because of their different experiences, and they have developed different abilities out of them.

Pretending anything else is misguided at best, and insidious and malicious at worst.

And either way, it leads to a trap – simplistic and comfortable as it may be — of thinking that the world is nothing more than your experiences. Which means that anyone outside of your experience is wrong in some way, less-than, and unworthy of your consideration or respect. And that differences are acts of spite and defiance. And that anyone who can’t do what you’ve done is beneath you.

Because how hard can it be to be like you? And why wouldn’t they want to? What are they hiding? What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to take away from you? Why are they trying to destroy the world defined by your experiences?

And what can’t you justify doing to them to defend the very world in which you live?

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