I am on a ski vacation.
It’s 20F (-7C) and my suitcase is packed to the brim with fleece lined everything and thermal underwear. My biggest concern for the next few days is avoiding frostbite on my toes.
This is my current reality. But on the other side of the world, a country is literally on fire.
Our realities don’t align. It’s not hot, it’s freezing. It’s not burning, it’s snowing.
As snowflakes flurry to the ground outside my window and I light a fire in the fireplace for warmth and comfort, it is beyond my capacity to truly understand what it is like to have the blaze uncontained, ravaging the land around me. Destroying homes, decimating entire species of plants and animals…killing. To know how it feels to breathe in the ashes all around. To swelter in 120F (49C) heat, hopping for the tiniest reprieve the breeze will bring while simultaneously worrying that that same breeze will spread the flames further.
But just because I cannot fathom it, doesn’t make it any less true.
Australia’s reality is no less real than mine. And I would never dream of dismissing their suffering just because it is not a part of my experience.
And yet, every day we dismiss the pain and suffering of those around us. At home, at the hair salon, at work. Simply because it is outside of our reality. Because it is not our experience.
An old classmate DMs us at 11PM asking what to do for their vomiting puppy.
In our reality, it’s a no brainer—go to the vet. You haven’t spoken to this person in 10 years, you can’t help from where you are, and you’re tired of always being expected to be ‘on.’ And so you get mad at them for even daring to ask.
But in their reality, they’re feeling scared and helpless. They don’t know if this constitutes an emergency. Is it normal for a puppy to vomit occasionally? Is there even such a thing as an emergency room for pets? And if so, do they go to the ER now, or can they wait until the morning to see their regular vet? Will their regular vet see them on such short notice? Is this happening because of something they did? Is their puppy going to die?
We can’t even imagine a time when we didn’t know the answers to these questions. We know too much to ever remember what it was like to not know. And we assume that everyone else must know too. And so, if they’re asking it must be because they want free help, or because they assume their vet is a crook who’s going to upsell them on tests.
When all they’re actually asking for is a little peace of mind; a direction to be pointed in; a sympathetic ear.
Your reality is valid.
The need for boundaries. The frustration of being asked to do something you’re not prepared or equipped to do at that moment. The resentment of being used only for your veterinary knowledge.
But their reality is valid too. And you can’t always know what it must be like to be in their shoes. Viewing them through the lens of your reality is like throwing a snowball at Australia when they ask for help dealing with the fallout of the bushfires.
We can stand in our reality, and still acknowledge theirs with compassion. Afterall, what takes more energy—stewing in anger over their sense of entitlement, or saying “I’m sorry Bella’s not feeling well, it sounds like you should have her checked out. If you call your vet they’ll have the number for the local emergency clinic on their voicemail.”
So the next time you feel yourself getting mad at someone else, try to remember that just because you’re in the middle of a blizzard, it doesn’t mean they aren’t consumed by flames.