I’ve had an epiphany this week that might be revolutionary, and I want to share it with you.
What if, when we see someone who appears to go down a guarded, rebellious path, instead of judging her, we just love her? What if we don’t offer up opinions or accusations, blame, or rationalities but rather, an ear or some empathy? Would that completely change the trajectory of that person’s arc? If not, might it at the very least change how she perceives she is related to? Would it honor her dignity and strength, rather than churn her back into a spinning eddy she may not even realize she’s in, or know how to get out of?
Yes, the answer has to be yes. It’s so easy to view someone’s actions or the way one relates to another and think that we so clearly see which choices lead easily from A to B. And it’s even easier to tell them we do, and is then incredibly difficult to understand why they choose not to tell us things anymore. Except we barely see it happening that way.
I used to think I was the kind of person friends came to for advice and confidence, but as time has gone on I’ve come to think that perhaps that simply is not the case. People sometimes come to me for hard truths, the things they think others won’t tell them, but they rarely come to me for a caring arm or quiet ear unless the situation naturally unfolds that way. That is very, very hard to admit because it challenges the kind of person I thought that I was. Or think that I am and wish to be, I guess.
Recently I had a few difficult conversations where it was clear that the people on the receiving end had, well, not remotely hidden opinions about me and my character. The context should have been happy, it should have been a healthy and encouraging conversation but those elements were left completely out in the sucking, sloppy mud of the snow melt. What took center rather, were opinions and observations (as they saw them) about some deep seeded interactions between one the people involved, and me (I’m sorry to be so vague, it’s just the way it’ll be here). The initial thing that started it all was positive. It was happy. It should have remained happy, but it went tits up and fast.
I’ve spent the better part of the week sad and pondering. I questioned everything. Were they right? What had I done that I didn’t even realize? What kind of a person am I? Do they love me as they say they do? Do I deserve the backlash?
Then someone close to me raised the questions, “I don’t know, do you? Don’t you also deserve compassion and empathy? Do you deserve to have good and happy things too? And encouragement?” … it changed my outlook. What good does pointing out flaws do? If someone asks specifically to be shown them, ok, you asked for it. But what if they don’t? What if, even more so, they are simply asking why someone who loves them would choose to intentionally hurt feelings and the answer that comes back to them is somewhere in the ballpark of, “Well… you sort of have it coming”? Who does it serve? Even the most well-intentioned finger point will never have the effect the pointer thinks that it will. What that person needs, what I needed, in that moment, was love. I just needed to be loved in the most agape sense: a love without blame, opinion, judgement, or motive.
That is the sort of love we need to dish out. That is the love that is transformative. That is the love that allows people to confide in one another, the kind that makes you stand up out of your chair when you’re sad and hug someone because they know you need it, regardless of how you feel doing so in front of strangers. It’s the love we’re supposed to be giving each other. And man, is it difficult. Holding a tongue when all you want to do is tell the other person how wrong they are and why they are in the exact positions they are in but are yet griping about them… that’s an extreme challenge. And you know what? Your people aren’t stupid. Chances are they are carrying around a thing or 12 they know they should have done and should be doing differently, you don’t need to be the freaking guru on the mountaintop.
It’s the end of a bad day or week. You’re sitting with your friend or relation. You relay a difficult situation that laid you low and upset you. They give you one of two reactions and these are yours to those:
“Man, I’m so glad so-and-so told me what I did wrong there and how the other person involved wasn’t right in how they behaved exactly, but I probably did something to provoke it and deserved what I got.”
“Man, I’m glad so-and-so put a hand on my shoulder and told me they were sorry to hear things got rough, and sorry to hear I was hurt [insert absolutely nothing else here]”.
No matter what correct corner we think we’re coming from with our opinions or observations, sometimes we just need to shut up. Just shut up. Shut up, listen, nod, put our hands on a shoulder and tell them we’re sorry their day sucked. Those reactions will change our relationships universally. We will become better friends and family to each other. It’s kind. It’s christian. It simply makes us better.