I was having a difficult time deciding what to write for this blog edition, so I asked my son what I should write about. He responded, “Aliens.” I posted my exchange with my son on Facebook, mostly as a joke, and began to get some really good feedback regarding how Aliens and mental health intersect. What started off as a humorous moment with my son soon opened my eyes and reminded me of the real-life experiences of humanity that can be so alienating. As we walk this journey of life, not only do many of us experience isolating and hurtful situations, but, are far too often, the source of pain and disaffection for others.
Being the new person at school or on the job, moving across town or country, and seeking out new faith communities can all be experiences that provoke feelings of alienation and those of us who have been in those shoes can likely empathize. But what about the times when you are in familiar places, with familiar people and still feel like you don’t belong? You don’t have to be from another country to feel like a foreigner; interactions with family and loved ones can also create experiences of loneliness and rejection. Having life experiences that are uncommon to those around you and the opinions and worldviews that result can lead to sometimes difficult to bridge gaps between you and those you find yourself in relationship with. But how often do we consider the chasms we create with others because of our inability, or unwillingness, to actually try to understand where they come from (because where we come from literally influences where we are coming from)? It is my observation that we, as people, are often so overcome by our own experiences of pain and oppression that little acknowledgement is given to the ways in which we oppress and hurt others.
When someone around you has an opinion that differs from yours, what would it be like if you resisted the initial urge to explain your point and instead asked him or her an open-ended question to learn about the life experiences that led them to that conclusion? I’m wondering how work and school environments would be altered if those kinds of discussions took place instead of both parties seeking out other individuals and groups of people that share their same perspectives and ganging up on the other side. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the safety and comfort of being around others who are like you and have shared worldviews. I don’t, however, think people consciously realize the feelings of isolation and rejection that are driving their need to seek others who think the same as them and the tendency to alienate others once they’ve found those others. It is in this transition between “them to us”, “wrong to right”, “stranger to friend”, that empathy is frequently lost and we perpetuate the same hurtful experiences onto others.
The truth is, we are all Aliens to someone. Maybe we can be more understanding and extend more compassion as we navigate our way through these life experiences. If you are feeling alienated and need someone to help you explore this experience, Labors of Love would be honored to walk the journey with you.