Once on The Smile Project road trip, while driving through an extremely remote part of South Dakota, my co-pilot, Zack, said he was hungry. We hadn’t eaten since lunch and it was now pushing 9:00 PM. We were set to camp in Badlands National Park for the night and there really weren’t any options for food that we could see.
Check the map, I told him. We can stop somewhere. After a futile search, we both recognized we were truly in the middle of nowhere. It’s okay, I told him. We’re just going to put up our tent and go to bed. There’s trail mix and Wheat Thins in the cooler. We can just have that.
Again, Zack told me he was hungry. Again, I told him we were just going to bed anyway and that we had snacks in the car that could pass for “dinner.”
We went back and forth like this for a bit. I was so sure that, because I wasn’t hungry, Zack couldn’t really be hungry and would be fine with eating what was in the car, rolling out the sleeping bags, and going to bed. I was so sure that he was going to be fine, because I was fine.
I think about this drive frequently. I think about how I was so certain that he would be okay because I wasn’t experiencing what he was. Surely, he couldn’t be hungry. *I* wasn’t hungry.
It seems like such a silly and ridiculous thing to even cross your mind… to not trust your best friend’s words at face value… to doubt what was being said just because it wasn’t your own immediate experience. And still even with one of the people I am closest to in the world telling me something, I was willing to brush it off.
Eventually, we did stop for dinner at a dimly lit bar in Interior, South Dakota. And all was right with the world.
But that night, it became abundantly clear to me that I can’t pretend to know or understand anyone’s life but my own… not why people react the way they do, not why people say the things they say, not why people live the way they live.
To pretend otherwise is perhaps—as I admittedly exhibited in South Dakota—a self-centering example of extreme hubris. There is more world than the one inside your head. More experiences than the ones you have had. More life than the one you are living.
Perhaps if we can extend a bit of that grace and understanding to those around us—if we were all able to listen and trust in the experiences and words of the people around us—we would come to a much better place as individuals, and even as a society.