I slid on the loose mat as I was stepping into the shower and slammed my shin into the side of the tub. Yeoww! It triggered all the nerves in my leg and was momentarily quite painful.
When I shared the incident with a friend, he discounted the incident and quickly moved on.
I think this exchange can serve as a metaphor for civility. Even though you can’t see outward evidence or don’t think something is a big deal, you need to respect that it is real for the person sharing it with you. It doesn’t matter that you can’t feel their pain; it still helps to acknowledge that it is there.
Hitting your shin causes disproportionate nerve reaction to the severity of the injury just as many comments or transgressions seem innocent but trigger larger emotions.
Our experiences are very real to us – whether they make sense, seem significant or are apparent to others. Keep in mind that the person to whom you are speaking may have just hit their shin – feeling true pain that is invisible to you.