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Thinking Dialectically: Not So Trivial in Human Relationships

My friend, Ryan Neugebauer, often puts up some wonderfully inspiring posts that provide us with the opportunity to truly contemplate not just the state of our outer world, but the state of our inner world.

Today, he put up a graphic with the following words:

Don't invalidate people's struggles because you've been through worse. If someone is tired after working for 5 hours and you worked for 7, it doesn't mean they can't feel what they're feeling just because you've had it worse.

Wisely, Ryan remarked about the post: "And you rarely (if ever) know all of the factors."

The quote resonated with me---for obvious reasons. Having lived a life battling a congenital medical condition, and having recently posted on the theme, "Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbor Until I've Walked a Mile in His Moccasins," it does upset me when folks say, "I've had this surgery and that surgery, but look who I'm talking to: Given all you've gone through, I shouldn't even complain."

I wrote on this very issue in a postscript to the Folks interview, published back in January 2019, which focused on my medical woes:

Let me just be a little theoretical at this point. As I stated in one of the Facebook threads, this is not about "I've got it worse than you." Economics teaches us that there can be no interpersonal comparisons of utility or disutility---that is, in this context, there is no single scale upon which to measure one person's problems versus another. Or in more philosophical language: everything is agent-relative. Everything is embedded in our personal contexts. Most folks on this planet have some "cross to bear," to use an old metaphor. That's the nature of life, which is why Ayn Rand once claimed that life is the standard of moral values. But this is not a matter of merely taking those actions that further one's survival; it is about surviving and flourishing as human beings---with all that goes into the very definition of being human.
What matters is that you do not lay down and crucify yourself on any cross you might bear. What matters is how you rise to the occasion to combat it---how well you deal with it, using all the medical and personal resources at your disposal, including the nourishing of social networks of support.

On Ryan's thread I echoed and expanded on these points:

Everyone carries their own cross, and the weight of the cross is not inter-personally comparable. Or, in the lingo of the economists: There should be no interpersonal comparisons of utility or dis-utility. All we can ask is that we can summon the strength to carry our own crosses---and count our blessings for whatever loving support we get facing any obstacles along the way.
I can't resist, of course, but it's an important point that applies as much to social analysis as it does to inter-personal relationships: Not knowing another person's context and being judgmental on top of it is just another instance of not being "dialectical". If by "dialectical" we mean: Context Matters, then damn it: It Does Matter. For those who have the audacity to even think they know everyone's context, and can therefore pontificate about every issue under the sun is the surest example of what Hayek once called a "synoptic delusion." It is also one of the best arguments against those who argue that "everybody" thinks "dialectically", and hence, to defend it is a triviality.
Well, you can't be a human being and not at least sometimes think logically and dialectically. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But people need to be far more sensitive to the contexts of others: It is the cornerstone of human empathy and the building block of loving relationships that provide us with the visibility we all require as members of the human community.

The point is methodological, epistemological, psychological, and ethical. My evidence is only anecdotal, but I have found that those who drop context in their evaluation of anything or anybody show neither wisdom about the complexities of social conditions---nor empathy toward other people in the human community.

I didn't want to hijack Ryan's thread, but as always, his posts give me pause, and offer an opportunity to think a little bit more clearly about issues that touch upon what it means to be human.