“Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Although often misattributed to Plato, this one originated from Scottish writer and theologian Ian Maclaren.
On the surface, this post might appear to be just another cliched effort to sprinkle a bit of sunshine on your day; but it truly isn’t. It’s here as a gentle reminder or an effort to redirect our emotions toward a much happier and more fulfilling place.
I often hear people griping on social media about “What is she whining about? She’s got it made!” or “This guy’s depressed? Sitting in his ocean view, Malibu home! Cry me a river! I can’t even pay my rent this month!”
This sort of misunderstanding or shortsightedness can lead to some pretty uncomfortable feelings. This is where the idea of “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” comes into play. Perspective, the way we see something, really does change the thing we’re seeing.
When I was in junior college, I worked for a car dealer in San Francisco’s East Bay. I would show up after class each day to empty the trash from the mechanics’ stalls, empty oil drain cans, do the odd repair, grab customer cars from the back-lot, etc. It wasn’t a glamourous job, but at the same time, it was perfect.
I remember arriving at work one day back then to find the business owner’s youngest daughter sitting at my desk. Let’s call her Donna. She was a mess. She appeared to be in the midst of a real crisis, sobbing uncontrollably. She was sort of bouncing back and forth between what appeared to be a sincerely painful emotional breakdown and a full-on adult temper-tantrum. All I wanted to do was hug her to help her get through whatever had completely derailed her day. Work though, was hardly an appropriate place for a hug, nor an emotional melt down. But, her older brother (my boss at the time) was sitting at his desk next to her. I knew that she was being cared for, so I just gave her a gentle squeeze on her shoulders for reassurance, then headed into the garage.
The next day she told me what had happened. “Yesterday was my 18th birthday.” she said. She she told me that she really wanted a new convertible Toyota Celica for her birthday, but she also wanted the sporty new Toyota MR2. The emotional breakdown that she had struggled through the day before came from the simple fact that her dad wouldn’t buy her both cars.
Let that sink in for a moment.
When she shared that with me, I literally didn’t know how to respond. It was like I was stuck. It felt like somebody had pushed the pause on my life but forgot to press it on anyone else’s. The year before, my parents had let me borrow $900 to help buy my first car, my 15-year-old Chevy. Part of the reason I was working was that I still needed to pay them back. But she was so distraught, inconsolable, over the fact that she couldn’t get two brand new cars for her birthday. She had had to pick on. I couldn’t even grasp the concept.
Then, out of the blue (to this day, I don’t know where the thought came from), I got it…I understood. I understood why this non-issue could be seen as the most tragic and challenging experience in Donna’s lifetime. How? Because…it was.
In sharp contrast, one of my junior college buddies named Kriztien had recently escaped communist Hungary by hanging on the axel of a moving railroad car. Donna’s ordeal was clearly far less traumatic than his. But was it? Was it to her? At that time, I believe that Donna’s dilemma the was the most painful thing she had ever gone through. “Daddy” had always given her anything and everything she wanted. She was his little girl! But this time he didn’t give her what she wanted. This time, Daddy said no, and he meant it.
Imagine what this must have felt like for her. Did Donna think her dad didn’t love her as much anymore? 18 years of bliss…shattered with a two letter word; no. Was she worried about what was coming next? Was her father going to encourage her to move out and get a job? She had always enjoyed the most comfortable life, and this was, emotionally, the most uncomfortable and frightening thing that she’d ever experienced.
Kriztien risked getting run over by a train, only to be caught, arrested, imprisoned, then escaped from prison, then tried again to hang onto the axel of of the exact same train a second time. All of this, simply to gain freedom. This was clearly the most terrifying experience of his life. I couldn’t begin to imagine what that was like. When he got out, he knew that he needed to get to Vienna to ensure his safety…and he did. But once in Vienna, he had absolutely no idea what life would be like over the next hour, much less over the next few years.
Donna’s experience, although dramatically different on the surface, felt very much the same to her. She had no idea what was next, what caused her dad to change his behavior toward her, what her life would be like on the other side of this experience? She couldn’t possibly know, and she was horrified.
Consider racing an Olympic sprinter. We can all run, but we often forget is the fact that our 100% all-in, flat out sprint over 100 meters is just as difficult as Usain Bolt’s 100% all-in, flat out sprint. In fact, it may be more difficult because we’ve never had to do it before. Donna had never had to do it before, while Kriztien had.
Keep in mind that we all have our own battles that we’re fighting, and very often those battles are challenges that we couldn’t possibly imagine. Whether it’s unhealthy coping strategies, physical or sexual abuse, money issues, worries about health problems, and/or family and relationship breakdowns, we’re all going through something tough. We’re all fighting through things that we don’t really want to be fighting through. The most empathetic and compassionate thing we can do to help each other…to help ourselves…is simply to be kind. Be loving…toward everyone, everywhere you go, virtually or face to face.
Remember, too, that kindness is not an omission of malice but an action. Like “Love,” “being kind” is an action. It is what we do.
Be sensitive of the battles that others are fighting. OK guys? Then let your kindness shine through.
I love you guys.