Our perceptions of ourselves, of our experiences, influences the way we see the world around us. Do we ever fully see things as they truly are? Is that even possible?
‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.’
I was lucky enough to experience, as I was growing up, a community built on inclusion, acceptance, and bringing out the possibility in everyone. The ethos I experienced helped me to understand that everyone, regardless of background, ability, gender, and culture, has a spark of genius within them, and deserves to bring that to light. The stark differences between what I experienced in this place (Chickenshed Theatre Company) and what I experienced whilst in the ‘outside’ world was jarring. It wasn’t an utopia, but it was special. I absorbed that sense of inclusion and acceptance, and took it out into the world with me, even though the barriers I faced made me understand that not everyone will share this need for a more kind, compassionate, inclusive, and accepting world.
The hardest lesson for me to learn has been about community and belonging. I’ve been involved in a few different communities over the years, from the online feminist community, to a deaf-related social group. They didn’t work out, for myriad reasons, but often because I’ve never fully felt as if I could be myself, or be accepted as myself. People wilfully or mistakenly misunderstand each other, and when you feel misunderstood, you feel like an outsider, even if you’re not. I often felt as if a part of me was missing, and that I had to fill it with something, not realising that what I was missing I could find within myself: acceptance and self-awareness, learning to see and understand myself as a whole human being.
The best lesson from it all has been to learn to stand within my own convictions and yet remain open-minded – not belonging to any one place, but being fluid enough to bring together all these different aspects of identity. I belong to myself, yet I also give myself to different people and communities, as and when I can. Community, for me, doesn’t mean becoming someone else, but standing within as an individual, yet part of a stronger whole. We all have stories, we all have our own perceptions, and I think what makes a community work is learning to listen to others, to try to understand where they are coming from – and, most of all, empathy.
Empathy is the key in our attempt to see things as they truly are. Imagination, a leap from our experience into someone else’s experience. To empathise is to see, and understand as best we can. We lift others by listening, truly listening, to their stories.
‘The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.’ – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.