Almost daily, both in my practice, and in my regular life I keep having FOL #1 discussions and am always impressed with how difficult it is for people to believe we are all alike. Lately his has come up in the context of someone having been victimized in some brutal way. The sentiment is often something along the lines of “I can’t believe that people like that exist” or “These cannot be actual people, they have to be something different than regular people” (sociopaths or psychopaths, or monsters or just plain evil). It seems inconceivable that regular human being can do the things that have been done to us or that have been done to someone we love. It occurs to me lately that the problem is that, if I accept certain behaviors as within the realm of human, then I have to accept the possibility of it in myself.
I can think of events and behaviors I have had to deal with in my career that, even as I write this, bring a chill to the very center of my being and I shirk the recall. I understand the difficulty of comprehending the reality of certain acts. I also am aware, however, that these things happen every day. They are happening somewhere right this moment. They are, like it or not, part of human nature. And, I am human.
If I doubt my sameness to others then all kinds of problems arise. It becomes intolerable to have disagreements with others because it points to my difference. If you don’t believe as I do then I must worry that I got it wrong so I must convince you. Or I might find I cannot accept my own impulses and random thoughts because they might not be the kinds of things other people experience (After all there is occasionally some spooky stuff going on in here). My fear of self, of my apparent difference from others also leads me to attempt to deny some of my impulses and urges. If I cannot allow consideration of my own internal state, then I also cannot accept it in others. When someone demonstrates brutality, especially if it echoes some stray thoughts that may have floated through my head, I have to separate from that completely. I have to deny that they are anything like human because that would acknowledge the connection I have to that person. If I do that I must face my own shit. I might have to actually examine my self and my humanity and the parts of me that make me think I am not human or I do not have it right. It seems much better to deny the other person’s humanity and perspective thus avoiding consideration of the darker side of me.
When I cannot understand another person’s behavior or beliefs it is because I do not understand or accept my own. When I ask “how can there be people like that” I am really asking “How can there be people like me?”