The other day on social media, my cousin Jennifer shared a photo that probably looked uninteresting to most people:
It’s a view of the driveway onto the property where our grandparents lived when we were kids. Jennifer commented that it’s a place she goes (on her motorcycle, pictured) when she feels sad, to reconnect with our Grandmommy & Granddaddy and the memories that are set on that property.
Our grandparents moved from there before any of us grandkids was a young adult, but so many of our formative years’ family experiences happened there. All five of us first cousins lived nearby, so we gathered for holidays and cousin sleepovers and oyster roasts. Jennifer’s post prompted me to share a few specific memories of sights and sounds and smells from our childhood. In response, she shared different specific memories—ones that resonated with me once I read her words, but that weren’t as vivid for me as they were for her.
Which got me thinking about how that’s nearly always the case, in all our shared human experiences. Each of us brings our own stuff, our own history, our own learning style and preferences and blinders. The things that were most memorable to me in my Granddaddy’s garden and on my Grandmommy’s lap aren’t the same as what made the deepest impression in Jennifer’s memory. Even though we were often there at exactly the same time, sharing the same experiences. She had different needs than I did—both when we were children and now in nostalgic recollection.
These reflections brought to mind a book that I listened to this summer—journalist Amanda Ripley’s High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out:
As I listened to the journalist’s stories, I located myself often—in uncomfortable and helpful ways. Her insights were relevant in helping me continue to understand better some of what has transpired over the years among estranged members of my extended family, here in UUCC, in our local community, and in the political world. One of the lessons is about how important it is to get at the ‘understory’ … the stuff that’s not so obvious on the surface, but that clarifies the complexities and nuances of a conflict by getting at the different perspectives—and the different needs and fears and priorities—that the conflicting parties bring to the relationship.
They say that every preacher has a handful of sermons that they preach over and over again—and in many cases, one that is prioritized above all others—and I know that this is [one of] mine: My perspective is not The Perspective. My story is not The Story. There is always more than one way to get at a thing, to understand it, to remember it, to make meaning of it. Some approaches are problematic or downright wrong, but there is almost never only a single, narrow way to understand.
And you know why this is my repeated sermon? Not simply because I think it’s a message that someone else needs to hear, but also because I know that that I need to hear it, too, lest I should ever forget to deliberately consider perspectives that are not my own.
I thank my cousin Jennifer for gently (and unintentionally!) reinforcing this message for me this week. And I thank you, UUCC, for being co-learners with me, over and over again.