“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.”
Someone posted that on my Facebook wall, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since – not that I necessarily want to.
When I first saw it, I immediately started processing how true it was – how many times the idea hit close to home. I thought of the kids in our community who took their own lives this year and the pain endured by the friends and family of those kids. I thought of the principal and the teachers who taught at the schools where those kids went and the herculean efforts they made to prevent more tragedies. And I imagined the indescribable pain and frustration when despite their efforts, it continued. I thought how hard it must have been and how brave and heroic it was when those administrators showed up at school – or back home every day – and somehow managed to slip on masks of positive attitudes, smiles and engagement with those around them.
I thought of the people I know who lost jobs, who lost careers in mid-stream, out of the blue and who didn’t know what to do. I thought about what it felt like to pretend that everything was OK, that their pride really wasn’t hurt when they stayed unemployed or when they took jobs that maybe their kids would have qualified for. I thought about the frustration and emptiness they must have felt when they couldn’t provide for their family. I imagined one of them in front of me at a traffic light a bit distracted and not noticing that the light was green – and my hand moving toward the horn.
When I saw that Facebook post, I thought about my kids growing up in this Internet age where all personal information is public and where all secrets are found, and where kids are surrounded by pressure and stress from corners of their lives to which we parents are oblivious. I imagined how hard it is to be a kid today – or a parent, and I wondered if the short tempers, the ugly comments, the seemingly self-centered behavior that seems to permeate our lives today might somehow be related.
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.
I thought about the single moms struggling to support their children, hold down jobs, pay bills and still try to have a life. I thought of the ministers carrying the burdens of their congregations silently on their shoulders and working more hours than they would ever admit to and never complaining. I thought of those holding two or three jobs to try to make ends meet and how that might look on their faces when they were in line at the grocery, in the bleachers at the ball game, sitting in a restaurant or watching others complaining about the difficulty of finding a court or chatting on their phones at the red light in a hurry to get to lunch at a local watering hole.
Be kind. Walk in their shoes. At least try.
One of the hardest things for a parent to teach a child is the concept of empathy. Being the center of attention is how we are born and what is hardwired into us, and it does not necessarily go away as one grows older. It has to be unlearned. One of the best ways is to be exposed to someone who has unlearned it. Children’s and adults’ behavior is learned; it is modeled. That is, we learn by example.
My daughter Amelia has been babysitting recently for a single mom. The woman holds down a modest-paying job and is raising two young foster children. She recently took on a third foster child because, I suspect, no one would take the child because she is older. The mom never stops. Between her job and trying to raise those kids, I don’t know how she finds time to sleep. But Amelia is not babysitting for this woman to give her a break. She is babysitting for her because the woman is organizing – on her own – a mom’s night out for all the other foster moms so they can have a break. She is coordinating babysitters. She is finding a place and a way to entertain and “sit” all these foster kids, all in her “spare” time and with her “extra money.”
This mom is fighting a battle that few would be aware of or consider, and she does so willingly and with love. She deserves your patience, your admiration and, yep, your compassion and empathy. I think that most of you, if you knew what she is doing would gladly give her a helping hand or, at a minimum, not be mean or impatient with her in daily life.
But here is the rub: “she” is everyone. She doesn’t wear a label that says she deserves or needs your understanding or support. You just have to have faith that “she” needs you – and you need her.
And, no, my daughter is not charging her. In the case with our family, I have probably learned more by modeling my children – and my wife – than anything else during my 59 years on this planet.
Be kind, and even when you can’t be kind, be kind anyway. At the end of the day, making someone else’s world a little better in some way is making everyone’s world a little better – including your own.