Bit of philosophy for you

Here’s a thought.

Telling someone what they feel is offensive and insulting. If they say that they have a particular feeling, then who am I to know different? People are best placed to know their own inner lives.

But consider this. We have to respect people, but we don’t necessarily have to respect what they say. (You think you are what you say? Really?) It is possible to draw a distinction between experience and interpretation of that experience. Interpretations can be mistaken. We revise our interpretations all the time, often in the light of other experiences, sometimes as a result of someone else suggesting an alternative interpretation, sometimes spontaneously.

Two experiences we often hear: a driver says that cyclists who hold them up and get in the way, put everyone in danger and make travelling frustrating and stressful; a pedestrian says their life is made a misery by hooligans cycling on the pavement. Are these really accounts of their experience? Or are they interpretations of something else: an experience of feeling frustrated, stressed, frightened and angry. I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that those experiences are real. It would be offensive to suggest otherwise. I would (often) doubt their interpretation of these feelings. I’d say these were caused by a badly-designed urban environment with too many cars, given too much priority. Our lightning-fast, causally-hair-trigger brains link up the feelings, caused by a complicated system, with the simple sight of a few bicycles and interpret the feelings as being caused by the bikes.

Campaigning relevance?

Communication. Do not get drawn into mollifying peoples interpretations and respond with tutting about red-light jumping and pavement riding. Do not get drawn in refuting other peoples interpeations and respond with growling about speeding and pavement parking. So far as possible point at an alternative interpretation of experience of the unpleasantness of the traffic environment – and a very real and possible solution to it. How do we do all this ‘pointing’? I don’t know, I’m still working on it – but the thing is, don’t get sucked in to disputing someone else’s interpretation of the world, because it can sound as if you’re disputing their feelings. Don’t get drawn into fighting their self-chosen battles on their self-chosen battleground. Keep it cool.

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