The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about
Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.
One of the most dangerous things we can do is make assumptions about people. We see a man in a nice suit, or a perfectly manicured attractive woman, and think they must have it pretty good. And maybe they do, but we never really know. Maybe they don’t have a care in the world, or maybe they are having the worst day of their lives.
Why do we do this?
It’s a quirk of our human nature to complete things. We see half an image or hear a small part of a story, and we fill in the blanks. We do this with people as well. We look at their clothes, or their job, or their appearance, and we begin to fill in the blanks about them. It happens in an instant.
But sometimes we’re wrong. Very wrong actually. I know this from my time working as a counselor and seeing some of these people.
That cheerleader? The one who thinks she’s so good looking and never talks to anyone? She’s painfully shy and also struggles with an eating disorder.
I’ve seen her.
I’ve seen her.
That guy in the $3000 dollar suit with the beautiful wife? He must really have it made, ha? The guy seems like a real snob. That guy hasn’t slept in days. He has a severe anxiety disorder and suffers from depression. He’s attempted suicide and been to rehab. More than once.
I’ve seen him too.
That kid who gets all A’s? Who seems to succeed at everything without cracking a book? He’s so lonely he’s in tears most of the time when he’s not at school. He spent so much time on his schoolwork that he never learned how to play, or laugh, or be a kid.
He’s been in my office.
This list could go on and on. Everyone is fighting SOME kind of battle, and some of them are much more serious than we will ever know. For one person, speaking in front of a group of people comes very naturally. For another, simply getting out of bed in the morning, driving a car, and filling out a job application is a monumental act of courage.
Which is where I think the “be kinder than necessary” part comes in. People are out there struggling with fear and worry and depression, but this may not be the part of themselves they are willing to show us. We work so hard at creating impressions for people, but sometimes this gets exhausting as well. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said hundreds of years ago, “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
True. Very true.
I think we can start to get past this by occasionally revealing our own vulnerability. By asking for help when we are struggling, patience when we are having a day when we are not quite ourselves, and understanding when we need a little compassion. Relationships of any kind are a two-way street, and the judgments we make about others are not much different than those people have made about us.
Which leads us back to the idea of fighting battles. Who among us hasn’t wished that someone would cut us a little slack, or give us a break when we haven’t given our best, or just been a little nicer than usual on a day we could have used it? I bet every one of us. Maybe the answer isn’t to wait around for these things, but to instead extend them to others when we are feeling okay.
Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.
For as much as I've thought about this, and for as true as I know it to be, it's still exceptionally hard for me to step out and show true kindness.
I wonder if there ever was a time when acknowledging vulnerability was recognized, even encouraged, as a positive thing.
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