July can truly go back to hell, where it so clearly came from!
We’re three weeks into the month, a month so unbelievably hot and humid that breathing is labored and even walking out to my car leaves me dripping sweat and feeling wilted.
And this month has been brutal in more ways than one. Over the last month, several people have taken the time to give me their assessment of my life. Each assessment was less than flattering and left me feeling hollowed out and then flattened.
Before I go any further, I’d like to say that I value honesty. I deeply value the truth, and I encourage open communication.
However, there is a difference between communicating—with love—one’s outlook and concerns to another human being and invalidating their experience of being human. I feel that there is little value in tearing another person down, particularly when they’re struggling. Encouragement and support go a long way, and one can both encourage and support without enabling or lying.
One example of a life assessment that I received was from a virtual stranger.
I met him in the world of online dating and talked to him regularly over a series of days. And by talk, of course, I mean text because who ever actually uses the phone to call anymore? On the last day of our communication, he delivered his coup de grâce by reducing my life and choices to a few pithy comments and delivering his assessment that I would find it difficult for anyone to want to be in a relationship with someone like me.
And to be honest, he wasn’t trying to be unkind so much as trying to be honest and to justify his loss of interest. He even threw in that I’m beautiful and have a great personality but he also clearly stated that he didn’t think that any man would want to be with a single mother with a complicated, co-parenting visitation schedule. While my arrangement involves non-traditional visitation days, there are reasons for it, which I did not feel the need to enumerate to a stranger who basically just said that a relationship with me wouldn’t be worth it under any circumstances.
While I understood that his assessment is not my truth but a reflection of his own struggles, it still floored me. I found myself weeping and shaken that someone, who only was beginning to know me, would declare me to be unworthy of anyone’s time and attention. For a couple of days, I could not find the words to express why this hit me so hard.
I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of these kinds of life assessments. Sometimes they come from well-meaning friends or family. Sometimes we receive them from complete strangers. They can come disguised as concern, but most of the time, these interventions are not really designed to help improve our lives.
No, these interventions are for the benefit of the person making the assessment.
The man I spoke of wanted to justify himself, to absolve himself of guilt for canceling a date and then making me feel like I would remain alone. While I’m not vilifying him, it’s easy to see that he didn’t make that assessment of my life for my benefit, but for his own. And in the other scenarios where this happened, I found the same pattern.
We need to remember that how someone else treats us speaks volumes about their own journey and often says very little about us.
It seems like we’ve created a society that’s experiencing a disconnect. We seem to struggle with acknowledging the feelings and humanity of others. For instance, I’ve seen social media peppered with memes using celebrities as the butt of jokes. While many may find this humorous, the word we should all be using is bullying because even celebrities have feelings, and while the price of fame may be subjecting oneself to ridicule, we are all participating in a system that is advocating bullying when we share them around.
As a writer, I’ve received unkind comments. I’ve been advised never to read them, and I find that most of my readers are lovely people who post kind comments. But this is the digital age, and there is always some stranger out there posting insidious comments impugning the character of the writer or maligning the subject matter for their own pleasure.
Those examples may seem broad, but I think if we take it down to a more personal level we’ll see it in our own social media feeds. We see it in the political bickering between people who claim to be friends. We see it all around us in the everyday. We’re all guilty on some level of this, and I’ll be the first to admit that I too have forgotten the humanity of the customer service representative who earned my ire by merely answering the phone when I was experiencing a challenging situation.
We often excuse our actions or justify them because of our own challenges and experiences, forgetting that the person on the other end of the encounter also has challenges and experiences that are just as valid.
I feel that our challenge is to remember the humanity of those around us and to begin to practice the idea of Namaste, which is to recognize the spark of divinity in one another. In this way, we show others respect as the most basic level. We remember that they are human and have all of the feelings that we do. When we bring the courtesy back into our interactions, we may feel less of a need to sit in judgment of someone else’s life story. And perhaps instead of doling out our assessment of someone’s failings, we can find a way to encourage and support them in their journey. We can choose kindness and recognize that we each have that divine spark, and we’re each worthy of love and respect.
The heat of this month has drained my energy and left me feeling unable to cope with the onslaught of negativity surrounding me from recent tragic events in the news, the turbulence of an election year and the unsolicited—however well-meaning—feedback I’ve gotten about my life. On days when we’re struggling to cope, it becomes essential for us to practice the highest level of self-care. Since “we cannot pour from an empty cup,” we need to make sure that we can rest and replenish.
During times of great emotional upheaval, I opt out of reading or watching any negative news media. I also steer myself away from suspenseful movies and reading material. I allow myself a break from taking in even the smallest amount of additional stress. Sometimes we need to take the weight of the world off of our own shoulders and to realize that no one else is making us carry it.
When we become the target of someone else’s negativity, we will often need to reduce or eliminate the contact with that person. After the online dating guy unloaded on me, I deleted all of his contact information. I have no way of continuing that particular relationship, nor do I care to. In other situations, we may just need to give ourselves some space from the other person to process our feelings and to decide how we feel about continuing the relationship.
Honoring ourselves through self-care is another way of honoring the divine spark inside of us. We can maintain positive relationships with others when we take good care of ourselves and we feel both centered and rested.
On days like these, I try to remember the Fred Rogers quote about his mother telling him to look for helpers in times of tragedy. When I think of that, I, too, am reminded of that divine spark, and I feel a surge of hope that perhaps we’ll be able to begin to connect with others in a real way.
We can learn to honor our own spark through nurturing ourselves and then we can, in turn, begin to nurture and honor others rather than judging them. When we learn how to do this, we can only make our world better one interaction at a time.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Catherine Monkman