10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

horizontescuriosos asked a question:

Hi, I just had one question about your post referencing how people assume their experience is the only valid experience. Do you have any idea why people do this? It seems pretty obvious to me that not everyone would have the same experiences, but apparently people don’t always think with that logic.

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post, which says:

“It doesn’t happen to me, therefore it never happens” is possibly the most insane, myopic, deranged fallacy that’s impeding our progress.

One of my favorite things about my Psychology major was learning all the ways that the brain can deceive itself. Things like FAE, TMT, intrinsic justification, hindsight bias, Asch conformity, the Stanley Milgram experiments, suppression rebound, and cognitive dissonance are all the loopy tricky ways that we can easily be fooled without knowing we’re fooled.

So at least a dozen times a week, I’ll see some online comment that says, “That’s never happened to me!” — which follows that it somehow never happens at all. I suppose the closest psychological phenomenon to that would be anecdotal evidence, in which a person’s own life experience tends to (wrongly) inform the totality of all human experience. It lacks empathy and imagination, because of course, we’re all wired to take the quickest shortcut by way of heuristics in order to form a schema — which means, we take the path of least resistance to form an opinion.

Our brains always want to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess what’s around us, which means: yes, we’re lazy, and without intentionality, we drift towards complacency and black-and-white conclusions.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but I’m afraid that our internet culture and quick-click social media has contributed to such knee-jerk judgments. No one takes time to process all the nuances of a situation anymore. Just think: these days, within five minutes of most major tragedies, there are already think-pieces posted on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter but no time to naturally process our grief.

We are not an emotionally healthy world anymore. I say this as a person who loves social media and all the good it can bring, but when it comes to thoughtfulness and reflection, we’ve mostly gone backwards. The only way back to empathy, it would seem, is for us to exercise radio silence and to listen with total intent.

Here’s what I’d advise. I would set up some ground rules when it comes to expressing opinions online or face-to-face. Feel free to dismiss or modify any of these.

1) Be a student first, not a critic.

2) Know the whole story, hear the whole story.

3) Give the same benefit of the doubt that you would want for yourself.

4) Wait 12-24 hours to reply to an email or message. (This has never, ever failed me. Unless it’s an emergency: the longer I wait, the better.) Don’t write an email that you wouldn’t want to see on a wall down the street.

5) Give an online post at least 30 minutes before posting it. While some initial reactions are the best ones, they’re always the exception (see #8).

6) Don’t get sucked into comment wars. On that note, YouTube is one of the worst cesspools in the world. It’s almost always better to keep scrolling; we’re not obligated to respond to everything.

7) Rehearse these words and use them often: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. You’re right.” Saying “I’m sorry, but—” is not an apology.

8) Our first response is almost always the worst one, because it’s often self-righteous contempt. The real war is always going to be choosing between contempt and compassion. While there are certainly some things that require our outrage and indignation, the bottom line must be compassion if we want any hope of change.

9) Carve about 6, 10, or 24 hours per week without an internet connection. I’m telling you: it’s ridiculously liberating and awesome.

10) If you can help it, try face-to-face communication. If you can’t, then maybe it was never meant to be. We can let that bitterness float into digital space, into the ether, down into the graveyard where it belongs.


One thought on “10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

  1. In the church where we were mistreated we heard of others being mistreated there but in some cases we heard they had done something wrong which brought it on so we didn’t try to do anything about it. After our experience there i believe they made it up so they could replace the person. We did try to help others that were mistreated with sympathy. Knowing what I do now we couldn’t have done anything anyway. Most of the people are afraid or are too passive to get involved or they believed what the church management told them. The only way to fix a problem like this is to vote the leaders out or leave. If it is 1 or 2 people that aren’t leaders they will probably outlast you. I know of 6 churches where a lot of people left and management let it go that way so they could get what they wanted. Many are closed now. This happened over time in one church and they went from an attendance of over 100 and a crowded church to an attendance of 15 or 20. In another larger church they lost a lot of people when they started a contemporary service. Later they effectively ended the traditional service for the summer when they had what they called a blended service which caused a large drop in attendance and more people leaving. That was the only time they got the message that they made a mistake and went back to two separate services. They continued to do things to people that had a part in the services. The sound technician came to church one sunday to find they had replaced the mixer and him with someone else. They ask me to take the job but I wouldn’t hurt a friend that way. After the way they treated him I didn’t want the job anyway. The guy that replaced him did a terrible job. If there was more than one singer or instrument one would be much louder. One of the song leaders was excluded by moving the practice to another location and not notifying her. Anyone that went there that didn’t take any jobs wasn’t mistreated as far as I know. Anyone that had a job there was likely to be replaced or criticized whenever the idea struck someone. The old saying is that if you don’t do anything you won’t be blamed for anything applies more in church than anywhere else. Only gullible people will take a job in church and think it won’t happen to them. It may take a number of years but someone in the church will be jealous or just be cruel and complain until they lose their job. A sunday school teacher was teaching a sunday school class one sunday when a man in the congregation came in and interrupted the class to ask if she had considered letting her class go so another teacher could take it. He interrupted the class this way three times. It became so disruptive that she let the class go so the class could learn something from the Bible without interruption. I have heard that the average life expectancy of a church is 70 years. This is probably because a small church has to have everyone so they work together to survive but when they get bigger they believe they can still operate if some leave so they quit working together.


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