It’s really easy for each of us to get caught up in our own day-to-day stresses (or victories) of life, and lose track of what struggles others may be experiencing.
Some people are really good at concealing it. Others wear it on their sleeves. I keep my online life pretty sanitized, but anyone who knows me in real life tends to have a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes because I’m not shy about sharing my struggles.
There have been a few things in the past short while that have totally shaken me out of complacency, as far as remembering that no matter how someone may seem on the outside, you really can’t know what’s happening on the inside. It’s giving me pause.
I learned a new friend had recently lost her mother. I had no idea.
I learned a colleague – who I sit next to every day at work – is picking up and moving to California. In a few weeks. I had no idea.
I learned that a friend who is the biggest ray of sunshine imaginable, and always smiling and vivacious, finds social situations awkward and stressful. You would never know.
I learned that a friend’s husband – of whom I had a very high opinion – was unfaithful in a cruel way. I never would have pegged him for that.
We make huge sweeping judgements about people, often under the guise of humour or good fun, that could be tearing those people’s hearts to shreds but you just can’t see it. We only see what people let us see. It’s rarely the whole story, and it’s the flip side of the phenomena of people thinking everyone else’s lives are better than theirs because it seems to be that way on Facebook.
Jokes about mental illness, for example. Off-handed sexist remarks that have been normalized. Prying, or assumptions, about peoples’ personal lives that are absolutely none of our business. I’ve been guilty of slips myself, although I try to be more mindful of my words.
Vegans experience it a lot; their thoughtful decision to abstain from animal exploitation is often demeaned or dismissed with backhanded “jokes” that can have an unintended alienating cumulative effect. Most people eat three times a day- that’s a lot of opportunity to take shots. On the other hand, sometimes we unfairly use word daggers in our own vernacular.
Unrelated, a recent Facebook post I made about my current poor eating habits elicited a small chorus of “bet you’re pregnant!” Even as I categorically denied it three times.
What if I am barren, but desperately want children? You’ll never know.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t joke around sometimes, or even push the envelope a bit. We shouldn’t walk on eggshells all the time. I know that nobody meant any harm in the Facebook incident. But we also could stand to do a bit better collectively at considering the impact of our words. Including me.
But just remember: What you see on the surface is often barely only a scratch. Try to leave your biases and preconceived notions at the door.
You don’t know what’s going on behind someone’s smile.
The solution? Think before you speak. Show compassion. Be kind.