Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 19, 2022

We must not invalidate other people’s feelings

By SANIYA RAMCHANDANI | October 3, 2019

First of all, let’s get two things straight: You only know as much about a person as they choose to share with you, and money can’t buy you everything.

I know this piece is going to incite some intense emotions, and there are going to be people who are uncomfortable with the message I’m putting forward, but this is something that I really have to get off my chest.

It is unacceptable to invalidate someone’s feelings for any reason whatsoever. It is unacceptable to chalk someone’s experiences and achievements up to the circumstance that they were born into. 

It is unacceptable to assume that the number in someone’s bank account defines who they are. And it is unbelievable that extremely well-educated, overall kind and intelligent people do all of these things.

A year ago I wrote an article about microaggressions and ignorance and how they are both so prevalent in categories that people simply don’t associate them with (international students — aka “foreigners” — and socioeconomic backgrounds), yet a year later it baffles me how easily people still write it off as “not a big deal”; this is exactly the invalidation that I was talking about.

And it’s a bigger problem than just a blatantly incorrect mindset. This week I was told it was “stupid” that I didn’t know the intricacies of the U.S. presidential election, and that those minute details should be taught in middle schools around the entire globe.

I was also kindly informed that I was only good at an arcade game because I could afford to go on cruise ships, as if arcades don’t exist anywhere else.

And best of all, I was once again reminded that I shouldn’t be complaining about anything because I have a boyfriend and therefore my life is oh-so-perfect. Because having a boyfriend is the only thing that matters, right?

These words came out of people’s mouths in public settings, with several others around, and the only person to protest even a little bit was myself. Am I going crazy, or is bullying becoming socially acceptable again?

Just because we’ve tackled issues such as shoving people’s heads into lockers and not outright swearing at their faces doesn’t mean we’ve dealt with every facet of the issue. 

Snide comments or rude jokes that are intended to cut beyond the surface level and hurt people are forms of bullying; let’s call it what it is.

Empathy is not a particularly difficult concept to grasp. Putting oneself in the position of another person mentally — that’s empathizing. 

Think about the context they grew up in, important events in their life, their role models and the goals that drive them, and then think about how something you say might make them feel, and that’s doing it very well.

I truly feel like I’m writing a middle-school handbook here; how sad that these are things we need to be taught at 20 years of age.

I’m not claiming that I’m perfect by any means or that I never slip up and say something wrong. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

But I am the first person to admit that I made a mistake, and even if I don’t, if I hurt someone, I will apologize for it until the end of time.

More importantly, I can’t understand how anyone can hear someone say such cruel things and not jump in to stop them. When you’re being attacked (even subtly) it can feel like the world is against you and, if you’re anything like me, like you’re overreacting and nothing’s really wrong.

And in that situation, there is absolutely zero chance that you’ll be the one to tell off a bully (that’s what they are — let’s not shy away from the name). 

Bystander Intervention Training was not that long ago; let’s try to remember some of those lessons, shall we? If you see something is not okay, and interjecting would not put you in an unsafe situation, say something.

It’s a domino effect revally. Once you empower someone to stand up for themselves, they will likely do the same for others, and so on and so forth. And little by little, hopefully, people will learn from their mistakes, and become more tolerant and empathetic.

Moral of the story: Asking someone if they want to come to dinner somewhere “if they can afford it” is not okay. 

Trying to undermine someone’s relationship by calling their significant other childish names is not okay. Telling someone that they don’t need to worry about their career because their parents could just “get them a job” is not okay.

We are all adults here; I don’t think I should have to spell this out for any one of us.

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