There is a phrase that should probably never be uttered again by anyone. And that phrase is, “I know how you feel.”
Do you? Do you really know how I feel?
I think we are quick to say this in an attempt to try and empathize with someone who we’re trying to comfort, or just having a friendly conversation with.
But this is a phrase that could quickly backfire even on the most well-intentioned person.
And because I think we’re quickly becoming a society who are becoming less and less empathetic of others, this phrase doesn’t carry much weight in today’s shallow and self-absorbed, me-me-me! society.
When I was grieving the death of my husband, I had someone, in an attempt to comfort me, tell me that she knows how I feel losing my husband.
She went on to say that she knows how I feel because she herself often feels like a widow because her husband doesn’t always show her enough attention. I bit my tongue at this comment, but there is so much I could have said in response.
First of all, it would be impossible for you to know how I feel with your husband sitting in the next room. Because at any time you could actually fix what’s wrong in your marriage. You could walk into the next room and say, “Honey, I need to talk to you.”
As a widow, I could no longer do this. I could no longer reach across the table and grab my husband’s hand. I could no longer turn to him and say, “Did you see that?” These opportunities were no longer available to me.
So no, you don’t know how it feels to be a widow. And even as a widow speaking to another widow, I make it a point to never use this phrase. Because my pain is not your pain. And my grief is not your grief. Everyone’s loss is personal to them, and we shouldn’t try and take this away from them by telling them that we know how they feel when we don’t.
Another scenario where we should refrain from using the phrase “I know how you feel” is where a white person tries to tell a black person that they understand how it feels to be discriminated against because they, as a white American, often feel they are discriminated against in society.
Oh really? So are you telling me that your white skin has gotten doors slammed in your face? Has gotten your job application put in the bottom of the pile? Your white skin has prevented you from moving into certain neighborhoods? Or your white skin has caused the white lady in the check-out line at the grocery store to grab her purse and pull it close to her body? Or perhaps you’ve been followed around in a store because your white skin, in the store clerk’s mind, means you’re going to most certainly steal something from their store?
“Black” has become code word for everything that’s wrong in society. Everything dirty. Everything not worthy of acknowledgement, fairness, and equality. And everything that’s less than human.
It’s hard to say you know how black people feel when you’ve never had a whole institutional system set up specifically to enslave, impoverish, and keep you under a rock and out of society.
It’s not possible when you’ve never walked and lived in fear your whole life of your skin being the nail that seals your coffin shut for you to understand how one living it everyday feels.
And I have to talk here for a moment about the term “reverse discrimination.” I can’t help but notice that the people brandishing this term are the very ones who say discrimination doesn’t exist.
So, if discrimination isn’t real, how could reverse discrimination be a real thing? Hmm… makes no sense to me.
Anyway, let’s make a point of burying this phrase from the (national dialogue). I have a better phrase….
Instead of saying “I know how you feel,” say instead, “I don’t know how you feel, but I’d like to understand.” This is a much better phrase, and it opens up a much needed discussion in our society.
That’s it. That’s our new phrase…
“I don’t know how you feel, but I’d like to understand.”
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