Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
There was a woman that came into my work for help quite often. She is difficult, combative even. She talks to herself about how crazy you are right in front of you as if she’s talking to an invisible friend who agrees that you suck. She laughs at bizarre and inappropriate times and I’m sure most people are glad to see her leave when she is done in their business or agency. One day, after she started to get to know me, in the middle of a totally unrelated conversation she suddenly looked me straight in the eye and said “You’d be crazy too if 15 guys raped you in the park when you were 12 for looking at them wrong.”
My world will never be the same. I will never look at people the same way. I spent the rest of that week just looking at everyone around me and wondering “If I knew what you’d been through, would I be amazed by you?” The homeless man with the cans, the checkout lady at the store, the family walking in our neighborhood. Everyone was suddenly in vivid color.
It was like the universe knew I had been cracked open and it flooded me with more. There are cycles but at this point I think I’ll always be little broken. Open. I don’t know that I could stop seeing people if I tried.
I started a new series here on The Good Men Project called SnapShots. It’s about those moments when you suddenly see someone in a way you never saw them before.
When I saw that quote tonight I realized that is the essence of the series. That’s what I hope people will see in the stories.
I look around and I see so many people living mindlessly and sarcastically. I see beautiful stories with hateful comments and pithy judgments, as if there is a competition of who can be the most smartly cynical and belittling. As if there is a prize for who can cut others down the lowest.
I see this online, I see it in stories of what is happening in the world, I see it at the store. But lately I’ve been spending most of my online time on The Good Men Project. So what I’m seeing is men. I know that women have a reputation among some people as being catty and cruel, but that’s never been my experience. I know that some people believe men are generally jerks or at least insensitive. That has not been my experience either. Until now. Let me be clear, the men around The Good Men Project have been generally thoughtful and respectful to me. It’s other men I see them being jerks to.
What’s up with that?
I mean my brain understands the dynamic that the closer to breaking down society’s stereotypes we get the more freaked out people who have been taught them will be. But, this is supposed to be a safe place for men to express all of the parts of them, most especially the parts of them that most people don’t think about or that society rejects. Being the broken open, hippy dippy, gluten free earth muffin that one of my friends calls me, or maybe being the budding Buddhist I am, I think that when people say rude and hurtful things it’s an indication that they are suffering. Hurt people, hurt people. Some people hurt others, some people hurt themselves but being hurtful is almost always an indication of pain.
Being the optimist I am I believe that we can create safe places. I believe that we can create a safe place at The Good Men Project for men to be authentic and not be put down for not knowing everything or for “being a special snowflake” or for not being *insert stereotype here*.
I know what I’m saying isn’t anything new. I am happily not the first, or even among the first million people to point out that people are struggling in ways we may not see. Nor am I the first to suggest that kindness is the path to a better self, life and world. This article, and these SnapShots are just my little drops in the bucket. If enough of us put our time and our energy and our words toward treating people with kindness and seeing people, eventually the bucket will overflow.
This isn’t about telling anyone what to do, we are all at our own place along our own path. But I want to offer a few thoughts, for everyone. If they feel right take them in, if they don’t obviously leave them be.
For the next 24 hours really look at the people around you. In your family, at your work, in your communities, on the internet, on the news, look at people and take a moment to wonder if they have struggles you’d never guess. Think about how you would treat them if you knew they’d suffered greatly or overcome something huge. Then at the end of the 24 hours think about yourself. You are the one person whose struggles you truly know. If you knew that someone else had gotten through what you have been through, would you be amazed by them?
Try out following a nuanced version of Thumper’s mom’s advice. Instead of trying to only say “nice” things. Try to say only respectful things. You can disagree with someone thoughtfully. You can express a different opinion or even anger without attacking people or cutting them down.
Talk about being kind. In person, online, wherever you are talking to people, talk about kindness. Talk about how hard it is, talk about how good it feels, talk about how the world needs it in small and giant ways.
—Photo [Main] ~maja*majika~/Flickr
—Photo [Inset] deeplifequotes/Flickr