Originally Posted on BrainzMagazine.com:
We have all been in a conversation (or two) where the other person cannot see our side of things. You explain and explain in every way you can think of, but to no avail. Why can they not see your side or what you are trying to convey? Simply put – because their experiences do not allow it.
This is where the pendulum theory comes in. We have all seen a pendulum. They swing back and forth in the same allotted space over and over and over again. Some swing wide. Some swing narrow. But, they have a finite range.
This is exactly how people’s ability to understand works. Everyone has an internal pendulum. We can only understand the experiences within our own pendulum swing. Of course, we can listen to and feel for other experiences, but we cannot truly feel or understand those experiences outside of our pendulum.
Let me give you an example. Many years ago, I had a friend whose mother had a brain tumor. She endured a 17-hour brain surgery. She had to have a second surgery to repair some of the damage left by the first surgery. After her mother’s experience, my friend had a very hard time connecting with others about her sense of grief and anxiety over the entire situation. She found that talking with people about the experience, many would try and relate by sharing a time their mother had surgery….on their appendix. Or maybe they were in the hospital for pneumonia. While these experiences of her friends were similar and scary for them, the pendulum swing was not quite as far as a life-threatening brain tumor surgery and thus those well-meaning friends simply could not understand the gravity of this situation. To my friend, these situations felt so meager in comparison to the brain tumor. But, to those trying to relate, it was as scary as it got for them, so they could only share and connect with their end of the pendulum.
The takeaway: you cannot judge people for not being able to comprehend the experiences they have not had AND my friend learned that she may need to find other sources of support that aligned more with her needs. This is important because it forces us to look at our own experiences and truly think about how we can relate to others. Your pendulum can only swing as wide as your experiences, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sympathize with people outside of your range. Of course, some pendulum experiences are out of our control, but being able to understand the pendulum theory makes us more willing to accept the limitations of other’s ability to relate.
Next time you are in a conversation and become frustrated by the lack of perspective from a friend, relative, or colleague take a deep breath and remember…their pendulum simply does not swing wide enough to connect evenly on the topic at hand.