If We Only Knew Other People’s Backstories = Empathy & Understanding
My new neighbor Tom (not his real name) appeared to have it all; a successful career, a beautiful house, a nice family. It would be easy to be envious of his life. That is until I learned more about his backstory. Once I got to know him better, I learned that he had had a very difficult childhood including neglect, emotional abuse, and a family member with an undiagnosed mental illness. Tom had come a long way after hitting rock bottom but still had days that were hard.
Mike (not his real name) was a fellow manager at the biotech company where I worked. We were in different departments but were on many of the same projects. Mike knew how to “push my buttons“ and it seemed like he always managed to challenge my ideas and say something that made me defensive. I dreaded our meetings together. Then I learned about his very ill child. Mike spent much of his “free” time taking care of his child and running them to doctor appointments.
Janet (not her real name) was a co-worker who I really enjoyed. She was always upbeat and had an infectious laugh. It seemed like she was always going on adventures and having fun. One day she shared how she struggled with depression and was having issues with her new medications. I was shocked! I would never have guessed that she was anything but happy.
There are several more examples I could share. Examples of people who have backstories; experiences and situations they’re dealing with that most people never know about.
I think of these people when I start believing that someone else’s life seems better than mine. I think of these people when I notice myself judging someone for their behavior. I think of these people to remind myself that I don’t know other people’s backstories, what traumas they’ve endured, what wounds and baggage they still carry, or what crisis they’re currently trying to handle.
Who are you judging? Who are you envying? Find more empathy and understanding by reminding yourself that you may not know their backstory.
“Let me hold the door for you
I may have never walked in your shoes,
but I can see your soles are worn,
your strength is torn
under the weight of a story
I have never lived before.
Let me hold the door for you
After all you have walked through,
It is the least I can do.”
– Morgan Harper Nichols