“I don’t understand why.”

I find this line running through my head. As I type this, I wonder if you have had thoughts on similar lines before. You find yourself wondering “Why would they do/believe in that? Why do they choose to be in a certain way?”, I have too. It is only natural perhaps, to approach people and their actions with curiosity.

Curiosity, however, becomes other things. What other things, you may ask? There’s a whole spectrum of emotions that surface when we view someone as different from ourselves. Fear, because they appear different. Jealousy, because they allow themselves to be as they choose. Anger, because they disrupt how we see the world. Hatred, questioning why they are as they are and what if their being different threatens me. Do you notice how we walked through a spectrum from seemingly innocent to emotions that could be harmful to oneself and another?

What do you feel when you see someone who does not look like you, dress like you, speak with a similar accent, identify according to your assumptions? I ask myself too, as I type. I ask, do I understand why they do not choose to dress as I do, speak as I do, ‘fit in’ like I do? No, I do not understand, frankly, none of us would. Our experiences are limited to where we are raised, study, and work, our experiences are a tiny sect of what really is. I reiterate gently, there is space for all of us, our differences enrich the relationships we share, transforming in beautiful ways, the lives we live.

I will never entirely understand the experience of another, nor will I understand their choices to dress in a certain way, their choice of expression, their identity. I can, however, choose to be compassionate towards them, even when I do not comprehend.

Throughout this piece, I refer to ‘them’ as someone else, someone different. I realize how my language creates barriers to compassion. In allowing myself to be compassionate, to be kind towards people whose expression is different from my own, I am also practicing an act of self-care. I accept the parts and experiences of myself that are difficult and hard for me to own, too.

I write this in an attempt to thank Alok V. Menon (they/them), internationally acclaimed gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker, whose dialogue on compassion forms the crux of this piece. They are a kind being whose voice consistently allows me to hold space for radical love, teaches me to unlearn how I see people, in my trying to practice compassion, every day.