With everything going on the world and the frenzy of activity even in my little part of the world, I’m feeling tender right now. Not just tender as in compassionate towards others, but tender as in easily pained. I’m hearing so much criticism in the world and all around me, and it’s starting to hurt. I feel myself flinching inside more and more with every harsh word that I hear or read. I want it all to stop.
I’m a lover of quotes and used to keep a quote book when I was a kid. As an adult, I’ve started doing that again. One of my favorites is something like: be kind because everyone you encounter is fighting a battle you know nothing about. I believe that. I have for a long time, but I was confronted with that fact in a new way earlier this year when an old friend committed suicide. To me, that act came out of the blue. But it wasn’t out of blue. There was just far more to the story than what I knew.
I’m realizing more and more that 99% of the time, there is more to the story than what I know. And that helps me be less reactive and less harsh towards others.
I’m one who has strong feelings about right and wrong, and my feelings have been quite raw since last November. As a nation we made a decision that felt like a deep punch in the gut to me. From my perspective, cruelty was rewarded with the highest office in our nation, and that was just unfathomable to me. As a friend of mine said recently, we are a people who make decisions, not based on what we like, but based on what we hate. I think that’s accurate. I don’t think it’s right, but I think it’s accurate.
I don’t want to hate. I don’t want to act and respond out of hatred. And I don’t want to live in a place where people continually act and respond out of hatred.
But I’m as guilty of that as the next person. I want to be compassionate towards everyone, but I still find myself judging and feeling disgust and often having to turn away because it’s hard for me to take in what’s being said and done in our world right now. I don’t have enough compassion if I can’t be compassionate towards those with whom I disagree.
I’ve been trying to figure out a new approach for me in this season. How different would my world look if I continually said: (a) I don’t know the entire story and (b) I will not be quick to judge? How differently might I speak to and about others if I consistently gave others the benefit of the doubt? How differently might I behave if my intention was not to condemn, but to encourage change?
A couple of months ago, I went to a rotary meeting in my little town. The club had a sign hanging that really struck me. It offered a test for the things we think, say or do. It was a list of questions to ask yourself.
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build good will and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
I’m trying hard to apply to those questions before I speak or act. It’s hard, and I fail often, particularly at home when I tend to spew to Dave about whatever has just happened. He’s my safe place and doesn’t judge me in those moments, which I appreciate. But generally speaking, I’m trying to limit what I say and do out in the world to things that pass this four-part test.
The sad and good truth is that these questions have quieted me somewhat. They’ve quieted me both quite often and not often enough.
I’ll give you an example. Last week, I left a message for a vendor, and I could hear my own rudeness in the message. I was tired and traveling and annoyed that this vendor was calling me on my cell phone while I was on vacation for something that she could and, I thought, should obtain from her own client. And all of that came through in my tone with this person that I’ve never even met. After I hung up, I thought about what I had just done. If she’s asking me, she’s probably having trouble getting what she needs from her own client. She has no idea I’m on vacation. And calling my cell phone rather than my work line was probably an oversight on her part. Had my harsh reaction been appropriate? I called her back and left a second message apologizing for my rudeness.
My hope is that the second message had more of an impact on her than the first. My hope is that my being self-centered and unkind had less of an impact than my willingness to acknowledge that I was being self-centered and unkind.
What we say and how we say it matters. Our words and actions affect the people around us. It is so very easy to have an opinion and to spew that opinion into the world, but are we doing any good?
How different would the world look if we got frustrated less and tried to understand more? If we did less name calling and asked more questions? If we criticized less and offered to help more? How different would the world look if we only said and did things that were truthful, fair, constructive and beneficial?
How would we communicate with and about others if we continually gave others the benefit of the doubt and started from a place of assuming that everyone truly is doing the best he or she can in any given circumstance? We will fall short. We all fall short sometimes. We all make mistakes and don’t handle things the best way sometimes. But how different would the world look if we showed everyone, including ourselves, more compassion?
These are things that have been heavy on my mind lately as I realize more and more that we never fully know the experience of another person or the facts of any given situation and that we affect the people around us by the things we say and do, whether we intend to or not.
Isn’t the world around us hard enough without us making it harder on each other? Can you and I – can we be more kind? Can we at least try?