The burden of experience

A number of weeks ago, someone I consider a friend was in an horrific car accident. They nearly died. I am grateful they did not, and are well on their way to recovery, hard but as seems typical for them, ahead of schedule. Their surgeons and trauma team worked miracles to put them back together, completely. They are back posting on social media, telling their story, raw and honest as usual. I’ve seen them comment and post about how they are grateful a certain type of surgery was avoided as that would break them. This surprised me. After everything they’ve been through, this one thing that would break them is something that I happen to live with, though under different emergency reasons to theirs.

It’s kinda… jarring to read that something you live with every day would break someone else.

I’m not brave enough to write what that is, yet. Maybe some day. I know some of you reading may know who I’m referring to and can work it out. That’s OK I guess. The point is not the thing, but what happened in my head. My immediate want was to message the person, educate them. They didn’t know there was someone reading that have the thing and would be so jarred by their words… for days. That the thing is not so bad. That it saved my life. That it didn’t break me, when I am not as strong as them (in my perception). I wanted to let them know. Surely they would want to know that it’s not so bad? That their words were inadvertently jarring? Surely I wasn’t the only one out of their thousands of followers effected like that? I couldn’t comment publicly, as I already said I’m not brave enough yet… also, this kind of “education” is best done privately. I could PM them, and they would read it when they could, they would understand, maybe post something after they had reflected on it… they’re that kind of person I think. But when composing it in my head, every way I tried to frame it felt like I was making their story about me. So there’s still all this stuff in my head about it with no where else to go, a burden that I wanted to offload to them…

It’s a kind of cognitive bias: the curse of knowledge or the burden of experience.

It’s where we know or have experienced something, and kinda assume everyone should know it or judge them through that lens. I think it’s why social media is so rampant with unsolicited advice. We want to share our experience, we want to help. If everyone knew what we knew it would save people from stuff, probably.

It also gets in the way of empathy. And probably creates superiority complexes or something, I don’t know. And when we comment on social media we don’t always see that side.

I see it all the time in the pet world (see, there is a relevant point here somewhere), especially with dogs. Other peoples’ experiences that become their truths, their rules… a kernel of truth that grows legs and becomes a one-liner they comment in response to posts about barking dogs or mystery illnesses or whatever… galvanising in so many aspects of the industry.

Never play tug with your dog
Raw meat is bad for pets, it will “blood” dogs
Never feed bones
Desex to prevent unwanted litters and diseases of the reproductive system
It’s all how they’re raised
Medication is bad
Only use harnesses
Muzzles, crates are cruel
Don’t take the stray to the pound
Your dog shouldn’t sleep in your bed with you

All of the above statements started with someone’s experience and they are all at best false absolutes, at worst dangerous advice. It is ironically, experience and knowledge that combat these kinds of statements and inform our choices. The real truth is usually somewhere in the middle. When we have an experience, whether the outcome is good or bad, that experience becomes our truth. We can’t make it the truth for anyone else, we can only inform their choice if they ask for it.

This is hard for me. Especially on social media. If someone’s posting they must be seeking opinions right? I can comment, and then it’s there for everyone to see and learn from. Experience and knowledge are power! Or rather, they are powerful if we share them in constructive ways – when explicitly asked for, or available when someone is searching for it.

I try to ask myself 3 questions before giving my opinion on stuff (these were on the whiteboard of an old work colleague, I thought they were from some ancient philosophy, but Google tells me it’s the Socratic Triple Filter Test):

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

In the case of my friend: Yes what I wanted to tell them is true, it is my truth that I live every day. Yes, I was going to frame it as kindly as possible, which included doing it via PM instead of as a public comment, so they could read or not in their own time. It’s the necessary part where it fell down – it felt necessary to unburden myself & perhaps help someone else, but it would make their story, their recovery, about me. Besides which, the decision point is in the past… so next time they’re in an horrific accident they might reconsider? Yikes. An opinion given “just for future reference” is not particularly constructive for someone just coming through something!

And as a side note, if I ask those questions of my friend’s post it passes. It is their truth, it is kind to share their experience and progress when so many of us were so worried for them, and it is necessary for them to share the hard stuff, the stuff that might’ve broken them, so we can see they are human, not some curated social media personality. My bias is my issue, not theirs.

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