Monday, March 17, 2014

Some thoughts on...being cruel to others: Why can't we just help one another?

Jenny Holzer - Truisms

I've been having some issues with a particular friend of mine. I ran out of resources to figure out how to understand the issue, and after numerous suggestions from various people, I reached out to this friend's mother, just asking for some perspective or some advice to understanding why this friend was treating me in such a way. I've met this friend's mother before and she and I have emailed back and forth a few times (she even sent me a Christmas present!), so she isn't a complete stranger to me. I felt a little uncomfortable reaching out to her, but I figured it would only be uncomfortable to me, and she was feeling badly that her child was treating me in such a way, so it wouldn't be anything too uncomfortable for her. I sent her an email explaining why the situation was hurting me and how I wanted to fix it, and asking if she had any perspective, as their mother, as to why this friend was treating me with such cruelty. Moms usually know their children pretty well and, as I've greatly supported her child - emotionally and otherwise - for the past year, I thought she might have something to say that would help me understand the situation. I felt pretty good as I pushed the "Send" button on the email, thinking, "This is someone who actually knows and understands this friend - I know that she'll have something to say that will help me feel better about the situation." Errr - not so much. I received a short, to-the-point email back which said, essentially, "Leave me alone, go get professional help, and move on." I laughed and was fuming at the same time. Her short email made me realize how ungrateful that entire family - my friend included - is for all that I, and my family, had done to help in the past year. This friend lived with my parents for a month (rent free, 3 meals a day) when they couldn't find a place to stay. This friend came over for dinner 3 times a week for a home cooked meal. My family opened their doors to this friend whenever they were having a problem and needed a place to stay or to get away to. I provided huge emotional support to this friend when they were having grave personal issues for the past 7 months. I mean, I never wanted anything in return for it, but it didn't seem unreasonable to expect for this friend's mother to have something nice and comforting to say about the situation. I'm trying not to get too rant-y here, but my point is: Why is it so difficult to be nice to people who are hurting?

I have difficulty being mean or insensitive to people. If someone is hurt, I cannot turn a blind eye to their pain. I cannot tell a hurting person anything that would hurt them more. Even if someone isn't hurt, even if they're having a great day, I couldn't say something mean or petty to them just to spite them. Being mean to people drains me of my energy. I walk away from those situations feeling horrible about myself for being so cruel. Even when I worked in guest services for the Mall of America, I couldn't be mean to rude guests. There were very few times when I said anything mean to anyone, and if I was really having a difficult time being nice to someone who was calling me incompetent or stupid, then I just walked away from the situation or called a manager. There was never any point in me getting hostile just because someone was taking their bad mood or hurt out on me. When someone was giving me attitude, I would smile and ask how I could find a solution to their problem. Yes, the entire purpose of that job was to help people - but isn't that the entire purpose of life, too?

There's been a viral article going around about a young job-seeker named Diana Mekota trying to connect with Kelly Blazek, a professional in the Cleveland marketing field. Blazek sent a harsh reply back to the young woman, calling her tacky & entitled, and ending the long tear down with a snappy, "Don't ever write me again." Blazek's career is now destroyed and she's taken down all of her social networking due to her harsh and unhelpful words. I find that this example underlines how exhausting (and damaging) it is to be mean. Some kind words would have been encouraging for the job seeker and taken no emotional toll on the professional, yet Blazek chose to be mean. Although this is completely different from reaching out to someone looking for emotional support, it still demonstrates the same thing: A lack of empathy, a lack of gratefulness, leads to unnecessarily rude and caustic words.

As a Christian, I am currently observing Lent. Many people who were raised in the Christian faith might know that during Lent, there's an expectation to give something up during the 40 days. As a kid, I always chose stuff like ice cream or Saturday morning cartoons. When I was 17, I gave up dating, even! The point of this "giving something up" concept is that Jesus suffered for your sins, and so to even it out you have to give something up....or something. The concept never really quite made sense to me and always seemed a bit backwards of what we're actually supposed to be learning during Lent. In recent years, I've been trying to observe Lent by putting an extra effort into being a good citizen, whether that be by volunteering, producing less waste, recycling more, cleaning the neighborhood, etc. On Sunday, I was in church, reflecting on the cruel and unnecessarily harsh words of my friend's mother from days before. The gospel reading for the day was from John and included 3:16-17, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. This verse lingered with me as I sat in my pew, and as I went forth into the world after the service. I realized that, instead of giving something up for Lent, I should make it my goal to be more loving and more caring. As a Christian, you are taught that God is love and Jesus sacrificed his life because of this love. So the best way to observe Lent is to love, right? And so, for Lent, I am making it my 40 day "goal" per se, to be more full of love, and to spread that love.

I am viewing this through the lens of my faith because it is relevant, in that way, for me. However, you certainly do not need religion, Christian or otherwise, to realize the healing powers of love. My religion helps me put certain attitudes - love, hate, compassion, greed - into perspective, and I find that it helps me, but you can use whatever method you'd like to find the power of and the correct equation for these attitudes. But it comes down to this: You say kind things to others, you feel love towards others, and the world is a better place. You say petty things to others, you feel hate or even simply indifference to others, and the world is only full of more hurt. I don't want to be causing any more hurt, and my entire purpose in life is to make this world - even if it's only the world of a single person or a small group of people - better. I've been reflecting a lot of things that I can do to be more loving, more compassionate, more kind, and more healing.

Source: RoomForEmptiness via Zazzle

Today I went to the funeral of a man I went to church with. He had sponsored me to volunteer in Guatemala back in 2012, and his positive attitude, smiling face, and humorous spirit were always valued in the congregation. In the homily, my pastor highlighted a simple act that this man would do every night before bed: He apologized to those he loved for any hurt he may have caused them. Even if it was unintentional, even if it had gone past him unnoticed, he apologized for it. Every night. I think that's a beautiful thing that I would like to learn from. I'm the type of person who apologizes the next day, or a week later, sometimes even years later. And it always lifts a weight off my chest when I find the strength to apologize, so why not do it every night? Never be plagued by that regret of mean spirited-ness.

I was thinking about why the heck I bothered to reach out to my friend's mother. I had never been quite comfortable around her and always found her to be phony rather than genuinely considerate (not to get all Holden Caulfield on you). I realized that the reason I felt reasonably comfortable doing it was because I was thinking, "What if this was my mother?" If my hurting friend reached out to my mother, I know that she would sit and talk to them for hours, for as long as they needed, and probably make them a home cooked meal to go with it. Because that's just the type of person my mother is. She attends trainings on emotional healing. She goes to my church's substance abuse outreach ministry even though she isn't an addict. She made cookies for her co-worker the other week because that co-worker agreed to take my mother's shift. My mother represents the type of kindness and compassion that I want to exemplify. I think that now that I've realized who my real life role model is for that type of behavior (Princess Diana is amazing, but not quite as feasible), I will have a better idea of how to be that type of compassionate and loving.

In real life, I am fairly reserved and quiet. I don't think that translates over the internet. There have been many times when I've seen people looking like they might be hurting, or need help, and I have neglected to reach out to them. I cannot say that I have ever, ever turned down someone who has come to me for help, but that's only because it feels right & natural to help people, even if it doesn't convenience me. But what about the people who are hurting and don't realize that there are people out there who are willing to help? I think it is time for me to make a change with that. In observation of Lent, and in also wishing to become a better person, I am going to think twice before I speak. I am going to apologize for any hurt I might have caused. I am going to reach out to people who might be hurting. Even if they say no thanks, at least I let them know that I'll be there if they need anything. Those are the types of qualities that I wish more people had, so why don't I start with myself? Now that my eyes are so open to this, I want to learn more about how I can be better at helping others and being kind, spreading love. What types of things do you do to be more kind, more compassionate, in your daily life?


  1. At the risk of sounding terribly cliched, I take to heart "Be the change you want to see in the world". Change always starts with at least one person walking through life differently, so why not let that be ourselves? As a Believer myself, Christ is always my ultimate example of selfless love, as well as those around me who take extra effort to be kind. I love your thoughts on this!

    1. I think that, if you really do follow the thought of "Be the change you want to see", then it isn't cliched. It's only cliched if you have it on a bumper sticker, coffee mug, etc. but don't actually follow it, you know? Like as if you're just using it as an advertisement of your "moral behavior" which may or may not actually be.... Also, thanks for your comment! I know that a lot of people of faith follow my blog, and I always enjoy hearing different takes & interpretations of how I express God's word.

  2. Chloe, I'm sad that you're experiencing some friendship problems. They're the worst... friendship is supposed to be forever! I'm not a Christian myself but some of my family are, and I sometimes look at self improvement throughout the lent period. I think aiming to me more kind and loving is a wonderful approach to take. Just pausing to think about how I'm acting and whether I would like someone to act that way towards me is a simple thing to do but I find it helpful. I hope things resolve themselves! xx

  3. I had a friend who is similar to this person you're describing. Our friendships consisted of constant vulnerability and closeness and then sudden periods of trash-talking and hating on me and my significant other for months at a time, and then a 3am blubbering apologetic phone call and then a few months of friendship and acceptance and then a whole nother cycle of the same thing (sorry for the run-on sentence). After the first time it happened things weren't the same but it's happened about 3 times since then. I really don't consider myself his friend anymore and sometimes I get really sad because we had so many good times together. But I found out that often times people who are hurting want you to hurt too. Some people are a little more stoic and genuinely try to better their situation and other's but more often than not that solution takes a lot of humility and many people aren't ready for that kind of selflessness. Rather, they want the world to hurt with them and it doesn't matter who you are, they will continue to self-indulge in their bitterness and spread it around so they don't feel so alone. Some people eventually come out of this, and others live their lives guarding their hardening heart in the only way they know how. You have a special gift in that you can take that step of humility where you try to better the situation. Be thankful for that, and if the other person doesn't ever come around, just be thankful that you don't have to deal with their negativity anymore even if you have a thousand golden memories. It's unfortunate that people have to change and push you away but sometimes there's nothing you can do about it other than "move on" and hope that that person finds peace.

    I love your vulnerability as a writer by the way! I find that it can be really difficult as a blogger to accurately express your thoughts onto a typed document but you seem to capture these things so eloquently!

    1. Hi Jessie, thanks for your thoughtful response. I've never looked at it as that if someone is hurting about a situation, they just want you to hurt as well, instead of trying to make things better. I'm just trying to feel proud of myself for being the bigger person in this whole situation, as I know that a few years ago even, I wouldn't be, and so I'm proud of myself for how far I've come.

      And yes, sometimes I'm nervous about showing my vulnerability. But I feel like people connect to it well and if it helps people reflect on their own life - and be able to write lovely, thought provoking comments like your own - then it's not a bad thing. I'm not sure if I'm also so eloquent or express myself exactly as I want to (hence why I call this "some thoughts on" rather than "completed essay about thoughts on" - haha! But again, thank you for your comment, it's so thoughtful xx


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