We Must Have Experiences Before Forming Opinions

The other day my mother sent me a message on Facebook letting me know that she “nearly ran her cart” into my friend Jane (her name has been changed).  Jane is someone I had gone to high school with then stayed in touch with over the years, visiting her when I was in town.  I would not consider us close friends, but I would consider her a friend.  During the past presidential election season when it appeared that Trump was a real contender, I saw something “Pro Trump” on her Facebook page and was instantly disgusted and made the quick decision to unfriend her.  (Stay with me here…this is not a political post and I promise it relates to mental illness.)  I felt such frustration with anyone who mentioned anything positive about Trump because he went against all that I stood for.  I thought to myself, how can Jane possibly believe these things about other people.  (This particular article was about illegal immigrants and how they did not deserve any of our resources or help, particularly in schools.)  Has she ever spent time with an illegal immigrant or their families?  It got me thinking about how many times people make a decision to support or not support a group of people or idea based on a thought, something they heard, something they saw in a movie, etc but not based on experience.  As a experienced teacher, I have spent years teaching illegal immigrant children.  I have put a name to a face, seen the love between parent and child, seen the joy of learning.  I have received heartfelt thank yous from parents because they know that their children will have a better future than they have.   These parents work hard, study with their children, and make school a priority.  How can one judge without this experience.  I have had Muslim families in my class.  I have observed their traditions.  I have seen them struggle to be their authentic selves in the middle of American life.  I have a gay uncle.  I have spent holidays with him and his partner.  I have seen the love between two successful people who simply happen to love each other…and happen to be men.  How can you judge without experience.  I have practiced lock down drills (and one real lock down) praying that the teacher upstairs keeps my child safe, the teacher across campus keeps my daughter safe, and my husband across campus is safe all while knowing that each parent is praying that I keep their child safe.  How can you talk about gun control without experience?  I have paid a $23,000 hospital bill because my daughter was in a hospital program for mental health prior to Obamacare and her private insurance did not cover mental health.  If you haven’t see the benefits of Obamacare, how can you say there is nothing good about the program.  (Just to explain, Obamacare made coverage of mental health with private insurance a requirement.)

The idea behind this post is to show that we all must use our experiences to form our thoughts and ideas.  What we think we know about something is seldom the same as what we experience.   Just as I have formed mostly positive opinions based on my experiences, someone may have formed a negative opinion based on the same experiences I had, but they have the experience to explain their opinion.  Dealing with mental health is an experience we all have, whether it is within our own family, someone at work, a neighbor, or a stranger at the mall.  Society is quick to judge those suffering in a highly negative light.  Would you judge someone with MS that same way?  How about someone with Alzheimer?  Probably not.  We must start talking about this illness.  We must start sharing the truths rather than the myths.  We must start asking questions and asking how to help.  We must make sure that people who are making laws, deciding appeals through insurance companies, or working with children in our schools all have experiences with mental health to “show” what it really is rather than what they have seen, heard, or read about.

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