I was reminded recently about the reality of the meme going around when a friend I know well uncharacteristically snapped at me in the middle of our conversation. I was surprised, but before I could ask her about it, she jumped up and ran off …and didn’t come back. After waiting a few moments, thinking she’d just gone to the Ladies’ Room, I comprehended that she had actually ditched me.
Since this is not her normal way, I assumed that I had said or done something that wounded or offended her and she couldn’t or didn’t want to deal with it at that moment. I sent her a quick IM apologizing and asking her to contact me when she was ready.
Days later, still crickets.
Finally, I called her. As soon as she heard my voice, she burst into tears. “I didn’t know how to make this right. I am so messed up right now, and every time I thought about calling you, I just cried. Like now.”
When I pressed her to allow me to apologize for whatever I had said or done, she was quiet for a bit, then said, “You can’t. You’re can’t apologize for having three daughters you love, or five Opasons you adore. It’s not about what you said or did, it’s about what you have that I don’t.” We’ve been friends for many years and though it was evident that she had no children, it had never really been a topic of extensive conversation because I didn’t think it my business to probe, and she never indicated in any way that my obsession (let’s just call it what it is) particularly with the Opasons was painful to her.
Did you get that right there?
All those years and I never knew that the inability to have children was a deep and unrelenting sorrow for her and her husband, and that adoption, surrogacy, or every other form of non-traditional parenting had fallen through. We all (including they) jokingly referred to their ‘furbabies’ but until my friend talked to me that day, I had no inkling that the emphasis for my friends was always on the ‘baby;’ not the fur part.
That unrelenting ache had ebbed and flowed for her and her husband over the twenty-five years they’d been married. What had seemed to me that day to be a normal conversation was for her, unbearably painful because as her 50th birthday loomed, she had been incontrovertibly confronted with the reality that she and her husband would never be parents.
Sorrow is something we may show for a brief period but in general, human beings are terrible at grieving and try to ‘get over it’ as quickly as possible. In a short time, everything returns to ‘normal’ and life moves on, and that’s just with grieving.
What about the co-worker whose mother has been ill in the hospital for months? Or the father whose son was severely injured at work? Or the man struggling with the anniversary of the day he killed his best friend in a hunting accident? Or the person who just lost his/her job? Or the woman who carelessly bumps into you at the grocery store, causing you to drop a carton of eggs on the floor? You know…the woman you just swore at? That woman, diagnosed this morning with stage IV metastatic breast cancer whose small children are at daycare waiting to be fetched?
People have pain, tragedy, trauma, and chaos happening that you, me, we know nothing about. We only experience the observable behaviour in this moment of time, and we react believing the other to be rude, intentional, crude, cross, cranky, unforgivable… whatever word it is that you use to justify responding angrily or offensively to a perceived slight or transgression. Sadly, this tendency to personalize the behaviour of others and thus feel justified in unkindness or judgment is a human propensity.
So, what to do?
1. Be kind. Nowadays, we can choose to be anything we want to be. Choose to be kind. -Maya Angelou
2. Be kind. Don’t judge the whole story by the chapter you walked in on. –Anonymous
3. Be kind. Don’t judge people for the choices they make when you don’t know the options they had to choose from. –Women Working
4. Be kind. When you judge you have no space to love. –Mother Theresa
5. Be kind. When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself. –Wayne Dyer
6. Be kind. He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness. –Sahih Muslim 2592
Just decide to be kind. Respond to the behaviour and words – ALL the behaviour and words, of others with kindness and compassion. Not only will you do something constructive to make the world a better place, you will experience positive benefits for yourself.
Don’t believe me? Google: 5 Researched Reasons to Be Kind (The Blog by Peter Field) Better yet, just try it.
Dr Susannah is a leading psychologist, registered professional counsellor and Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling based in Canada. For more information, please follow @DrSusannah on Twitter and Instagram and stay tuned for her latest updates.
Featured image from Pixabay