I see so much pain daily as I watch human interaction! I regret to admit that I’m not above contributing to that pain. Sometimes I debase myself by hurting others. I do. I get angry, insecure. But I’m trying to be better.
What follows is what I think I need to do.
Before I trumpet my belief, express my passion or desire, I must always consider whom I will hurt.
I must not look at demeaning images, or participate in demeaning jokes or language. I must consider that by so doing, I am reinforcing a distortion of reality – a perversion, which goes against reason, and worse, I am making people around me feel inadequate. They can try to disregard the feeling, but it haunts them. I can tell them that I respect them, but they will always fear that they will be the butt of my jokes. They will always feel that they fail to measure up to an ideal that I reinforce even to myself every time I support these distortions – pornography, racist or sexist jokes. Surely these things are harmful to my relationships. Surely these pursuits are bound to make people sad and mistrustful of each other.
When I debate a point, if I’m right, and I know it, I need to proceed with caution because I now have the power to really hurt another person. It is cruel to verbally “beat down” someone – to “put him in his place”. No one can find out he’s wrong without feeling humiliated and embarrassed. Surely I can argue reasonably and politely, protecting the feelings of the person I am correcting? Surely I can hold my tongue at times and not feel the need to correct everyone with whom I disagree.
If I am in a position of leadership in which I make policy decisions, I must never lose sight of the possibility that I may harm some people with my decision. And I must always err on the side of protecting the weak. The strong will be able to survive a little bit of adversity, but the weak – the poor, the sick – have very little to give up. The tiniest disruption of their ecosystem is a huge crisis for them. I must recognize that I am very lucky and that most people are not so lucky.
When I am walking down a sidewalk in a group of people, if I encounter someone coming the other way, I must move to single file so that the other person doesn’t have to step off the sidewalk or get out of my way. I must be gentle and considerate. I must let others go before me in line. I must watch where I’m going. If I bump someone, I must say “Excuse me,” and mean it sincerely, especially if I am the bigger person. I must consider where I place my shopping basket in the grocery store, and try not to get in people’s way. I must look in my rearview mirrors when I drive, and let people in, and allow them to make mistakes on the road without subjecting them to my arrogant derision. I too make mistakes.
When I talk to elderly persons, I mustn’t look down at them for their frailty. I know nothing of their ways, of the world they navigated through when they were my age. I must respect them. They have given their whole life to my society – have paid their taxes, raised children, fought the necessary fights, suffered. They have wisdom that I can only hope to attain. I must remember that one day soon, I too will be old, and I will want to preserve my dignity. The least I can do for the elderly is protect their dignity. I must give them an ear, give them a seat on the bus. I must listen to their wisdom, and treat it as a precious gift.
When I see someone getting picked on, I must go to his side, no matter how my reputation will suffer. This is courage. I must speak gently all the time, and I must listen more than I speak. I must resist the urge to be the centre of attention. I must love the people around me. I must care about them. I must state my case simply and know in the back of my mind that as much as I think I know, my whole world view could be wrong. I must listen to everyone: to the frail, the weak-minded, to people who live in uncomfortable social awkwardness. On any given day, I too am awkward and likely to say the wrong thing. I must be patient and understanding. I must ease the suffering of those who lash out. I must not reflect their hostility back to them, but answer them with gentle understanding.
When I have hurt someone, I must apologize. I must go alone to the person I’ve offended and seek his forgiveness. I must do it quietly and of my own volition. It’s better when it isn’t expected. I must try not to be a threat to anyone, but to be someone people can trust.
I must be an activist. I must have the courage to stop something that I don’t feel is right. I must have the courage to stand up for change I believe in. I must get off my chair and vote. I must attend the protest. I must try to find out what’s going on and try to understand it. I must write down or speak my concerns (gently).
The world can be a lonely, lonely place. We spend far too much time alone. I yearn for companionship and compassion. So must everyone. Above all, I must love.