COLUMN: Asking Questions, Getting Answers, And Telling Stories
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 04:12
We look. We assume. We judge. We never ask. I think we do this more than we realize, and I am no exception. But at least I realize I’m doing it, right?
Every time I walk across campus or stroll down Newbury St., I look at the people I walk past and judge them on their appearance—mostly what they are wearing. Essentially, I make up a story for each person.
I see a girl with a Chanel bag on her shoulder, walking down the street, and my first reaction is that she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth—a girl who has gotten whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it, never working for anything. I continue walking, and I rethink her story because the first was too stereotypical and boring.
Maybe that bag was her grandmother’s, who just passed away—Chanel bags have been around for decades. That story seemed a little more entertaining. Then again, maybe she had been saving half of her paycheck for years to buy that bag that stands as a status symbol in our society—maybe she is just trying to fit in. That makes the best story, I thought. Satisfied, I move on to the next passerby. I just judge and move on, never bothering to ask.
Next, I walk past a homeless shelter. (I’ve always thought it ironic that one exists on Newbury St. but this is an entirely different problem.) I’ve volunteered at this particular kitchen before, and I was always told to believe that most of these women are victims of the government or have been homeless for most of their lives. I create their stories and keep walking. But what if one of those people sitting in the church’s alcove is an undercover reporter or doctor doing research on the ever-growing homeless population in Boston? Again, I approve of this story and move on. I still don’t stop, and I definitely don’t ask.
In my first column as Features Editor for The Heights, I am going to make a promise to my audience for the next year: I am going to start asking. Instead of creating my own alternate realities for each person I pass on the street, I want to investigate their actual realities. I want to reveal to my readers how other people on this campus live, making it more difficult for people to categorize others based on their appearances. Instead of merely making up stories in my head, I will ask and report the stories once a week in these four short pages.
The purpose of this section is to ask the questions that other people do not have the time or the capacity to ask. I have accepted the challenge and responsibility of not letting any person (read story) pass me by again.
Upon further consideration, I realize that over the past few years on this campus I’ve been doing a great injustice to everyone I pass. You see, I’ve been making up my own stories, when actually anyone’s real story is more interesting than anything I could possibly come up with on the street. My limited imagination cannot begin to skim the surface of events and experiences that everyone has each day, let alone how all of these experiences intertwine to create one life-long narrative for each person.
There is actually a formal term for this thought process or realization that everyone else has just as much if not more complexity in his or her life as you. This realization is called a sonder.
It happens when you realize that for the girl with the Chanel bag or the homeless person sitting in the dirty church alcove, you are merely another passerby, just as they are to you. Perhaps most importantly, it happens when you realize that this campus is made up of tens of thousands of different stories, each no less important or complex than your own life story.
Later that day, I bumped into the girl with the Chanel bag. “I love your bag, by the way,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not even real,” she said. “I got it when I was teaching English in China—they have the best knock-offs over there.”
I’m glad I asked.