Why are some people highly sensitive to social interactions and energies? Why are others not so sensitive?
Why might one person be extremely confident and straight-forward seeing only black-and-white options, while someone else is more emotional or given to appreciating life’s complexities?
These differences between people are often sources of conflict. How many times do I hear people labelled over-emotional, a social retard, or too black and white? In interpersonal interactions, often a great deal of misunderstanding comes from the fact that all of us have a unique way of being in the world. To have greater peace in our social interactions, it’s worth taking a minute to reframe how we understand these differences.
The German philosopher Martin Heidegger came up with the concept of “Da-Sein” (being there / being in the world). His idea is actually pretty simple – each creature has its own unique way of being-in-the-world or Da-Sein. This way of being conditions the possibilities we understand for ourselves and for the objects, people, and situations we meet.
Take a tree for example. If I’m a dog, I’ll understand a tree as something to sniff or to pee on. If I’m a squirrel, I see a tree as something to climb on or as a source of food (if it grows acorns or chestnuts). If I’m a bird I might build a nest. If I’m a cat I might see the tree as an insurance policy in case of a dog emergency.
As a human being, I probably see the most options. I understand the tree through its uses to me. The tree can provide shade for me in summer, or heat in the form of wood for me in winter. I also understand that the tree was used for other animals: the dog sniffs the tree, the bird uses it as a house and so on.
But even though as a human I am able to understand these different uses, I won’t pee on the tree or smell it as a dog would. I probably don’t know what an acorn tastes like.
The point of this when applied to human behaviour is just this: in a certain way we are all trapped in our own Da-Sein. That is, we have our own unique experience of the world. Some of us are highly attuned to personal interactions, making us aware of the feelings of others, of their motivations, and of their character. Others are more perceptive when it comes to music, able to pick out the role of each instrument in a piece of music. Others are hyper-aware of smells, noises, or cleanliness, order, or structure. Others prefer lack of structure or less-orderly environments.
The point is that because we are all wired in a slightly different way, our experiences and perceptions of what we encounter is different.
In the same way, as you wouldn’t scold a dog for peeing on a tree trunk, or a bird from building a nest, you should probably avoid judging others because their Da Sein is slightly different from yours.
That being said, the tricky part can come when you share space or responsibilities with someone who has a different perception of yours. As a guideline here I would propose Jean-Paul Sartre’s phrase: “My liberty stops where the liberty of another commences.”
Don’t be peeing on your neighbour’s tree, in other words!
But the next time you’re having trouble being tolerant of another person’s way of seeing or being, remember that their Da Sein is probably a bit different from yours!