There are a great number of expressions in English that seemingly make no sense, while there are others that make a kind of half-sense. One expression that has been preying on my mind is the semi-accurate “If I were you...” It’s an expression we use when giving advice, which actually means “If I were in your place...” but we’re so familiar with it that we automatically translate it in our heads. Yet, taken at face value, “If I were you...” is quite inaccurate, and shows a symptom of one of our greatest struggles as individuals.
When interacting with other people, on an intellectual level we know they are very different from us – their thoughts are different, their likes and dislikes are different, and their entire life experience has been different. Yet, when we tell them about something we have experienced, we instantly expect them to understand how we experienced. After all, it hurts when I stub my toe, don’t you feel exactly the same thing when you stub yours? But, for all we know, there could be someone out there who thoroughly enjoys the sensation of a stubbed toe, so they go around kicking things.
For a more down-to-earth example, my brother loves cars – everything about them. He can (and has) go on at length about all the parts and how they work, and will generally do so every chance he gets. He knows when the people around him don’t share his interests, and he knows that they have different likes – but, at a fundamental level, he doesn’t understand why it is that other people don’t all love cars as much as he does.
We all have a certain element of that in us, that little part that wonders how other people don’t like what we like as much as we do. I love bacon, how can you not love bacon? Yet, somehow, there are people who hate the taste of bacon. Intellectually, we know this, but deep down there’s some fundamental part of us that believes everyone else is just like us.
So, when I say to my brother, “If I were you, I’d get a mechanic to fix the car,” I am superimposing my own self onto him, and making my statement completely inaccurate. If I were him, I’d love cars, because he loves cars, so that’s how I’d feel about them if I were him – and I’d then proceed to fix the car myself. A far more accurate statement would be, “If you were me, you’d get a mechanic to fix the car.” You see, then I’d be expressing what he would do if he had my interests, rather than what I’d do if I were in his place.
It may seem a small change, and rather pointless considering the well-established expression, but the way we say things is important. It shapes the way we think. If we go around expecting others to conform to our life experiences, we’re going to regularly run into problems. On the other hand, if we go around expecting people to have entirely different views and experiences than ourselves, well, we may actually begin to make some progress.
If you were me, you’d be amazed that this was the 300th blog you’ve written. And if I were you... well, I really don’t know, do I?
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