This is my friend, Tim.
I took this photo of him on a specifically unceremonious day in which Mexican food was in order. (If you ever find yourself in Logan Square, I highly recommend Los Comales)
Perhaps this is what I love about my friendship with Tim. It's beautifully uncomplicated and in this simplicity allows for a true depth of understanding and intellectual curiosity.
Tim, I appreciate you.
Aside from being my friend, Tim is an incredible writer, thinker, giver, teacher, learner...(I fear I may have already used the maximum number of adjectives that tips this description into the realm of trite -- suffice to say, ya great, kid.) You can check-out his thoughts and travels here: https://timthenomad.com/
Tim recently started his "Letters" project of which I was lucky enough to be chosen to participate. Tim wrote to me on the subject of reality and how we find connection when the realities we understand are so starkly different from one another.
Below is my response.
Tim, thank you for including me in such a beautiful exercise.
The Utility of Reality and the Necessity of Discomfort
My Dear Friend Tim,
You wrote to me over a month ago on the topic of reality. Or rather, the reality we understand and the reality of someone else’s experience that, perhaps, we do not.
I’ve spent a good amount of time thinking about what you wrote…over a month, in fact…and my response focuses on two things: the utility of reality and the necessity of discomfort.
And, before I say anything else, I have an admission: writing this letter was uncomfortable. So uncomfortable, in fact, that I could not sit my ass down and write a response until right now.
The questions you posed in your letter and the frustrations you expressed were so familiar to mine, how could I possibly author a thought-provoking response? My reality is, seemingly, in line with yours. But, this is not what your letter asks.
Your letter asks about what we do when the realities of two people (whether bounded in fact or not) directly oppose one another.
In your letter, you wrote:
"Argue about what facts are…"
The brutal truth of “facts” and “reality” is that…they’re all relative.
I’m not referring to “facts” in the absolute sense: $1 is $1 is $1.
But, what about $1 when you have $100,000 sitting in the bank?
Or, $1 and it is your last?
It is still $1.
But, that fact creates a viscerally different reality to the person interpreting the situation based on the context in which it lives…the utility (or lack thereof) of the “reality”.
This premise is easy to understand when discussing relatively simple, concrete subjects that you can count, but it gets considerably messy when applied to more nebulous subjects.
The other day while eating at a sushi restaurant in Hiroshima, I met a Japanese woman eating at the counter just two stools away from me. We began chatting – I shared that I was on vacation touring Japan for the first time and that Hiroshima was one of five cities I would be visiting during my time in the country.
Very quickly after I said this, she earnestly thanked me for visiting Hiroshima.
Thank me? I did not quite understand why she would thank me. Truth be told, I was unsure of the reaction I would receive from locals as an American visiting the site my country had devastatingly bombed in 1945. And, extrapolating how Americans treat Muslims considering the 9/11 attacks – I guess I just didn’t think we would be too welcome, much less, thanked for our visit.
As we continued chatting, she shared that she was a second-generation survivor, and that her father was the only one in the family who had survived the atomic bombing.
She then added, “It was terrible…devastating. But, if the bomb had not happened, I would not be here. If the war had continued, my father would have become a kamikaze. So, in a way, it’s okay. And, America and Japan are on good terms now.”
Now, that is some perspective if I have ever heard it. I must have looked like an incredible idiot in this moment because all I could muster to say was “Wow.”
Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time thinking about this interaction in the context of your letter to me.
We will never be able to have the exact same experiences as any one other person – the exact same realities. However, the capacity to which our own realities have the ability to influence our understanding of the world…we have to have empathy for this. We have to understand that someone else’s reality creates a utility in certain contexts that might be beyond our own personal perspective. In this way…we can start from a place of mutuality.
As I’m writing this, I’m testing this theory on a number of situations in my mind. I can see how this would work easily for situations in which I was referring before – the $1 scenario. But what about in stickier, more socially uncomfortable situation. What about on the topic of racism or women’s rights?
Here in lies the need for discomfort.
In order to recognize the utility of someone else’s reality…we have to embrace the discomfort of “going there”…embrace the fact that while someone’s projected opinion is so adverse, and seemingly wrong to our own…that we can go a step further and start from a place of understanding how their reality came to be.
I know this is hard. And, sometimes, the other person might not want to “go there” with you. I mean, I’m definitely not prepared in this moment to have this type of conversation on the topic of race relations with a KKK member. But, it is my opinion that persistent and relentless empathy can get us there.
I’ll be a pioneer if you will.
In love and friendship,