Midlife wisdom should make us better than this. Be the right example against cliques, back stabbing, and bullying for all ages.
I’ve had compassion for those who are different on my mind lately. It started with the funeral of a young woman, 29 years old. She suffered from a mental illness and committed suicide. There was a lot of support for her family at the services. Those of us who knew their daughter and sister knew how she struggled with her illness. She was either really “up”—vivacious, chatty, involved – or she was really “down”—moody, quiet, ashamed. As her life was relived through memories shared by those closest to her, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could I have been more patient? More willing to listen? Had more compassion towards her differences?”
A mutual friend of this young woman, whose oldest son is Autistic, shared his parent’s perspective of having compassion for those who are different shortly after our friend passed away:
I am extremely blue this week because of the passing of a Woman that struggled with mental illness. I just loved her, she was wonderful. As a father of an adult with autism my hearts just aches today. Members of my faith follow some easy commandments, they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, watch the right stuff on TV and in the movies and they think they are grand. They miss the hard commandments to Love God with all your heart and to Love your Neighbor. These are the hard commandments so many just avoid. Myself included. My son obediently goes to church and sits alone, men don’t want the burden of friendship with someone with mental illness, women don’t want to give him, “the wrong idea”. So he goes to church and mostly sits alone. Some of God’s children are different than you, some don’t agree with you, they don’t follow your code of normal, but you can love them all.
I know his son. I am kind to him. I have always said “hi” to him when I see him and ask how he is doing. And that is all. When I read this, I knew I could certainly find more compassion in me to try a little harder to be kinder. After all, this young man tries hard to have compassion every day with those who are ambivalent or even rude towards him. It is the least courtesy I can show towards him and others like him who are different from me.
And then I finished reading a young adult novel, Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. It’s the story of a 5th grade boy, August Pullman, who was born with severe facial deformities, and is trying to fit in at a new school. He wants everyone to understand that he’s just another ordinary kid, and that beauty isn’t skin deep.
Beautifully written, each chapter gives the perspective of one of the main characters as they see and deal with the challenges August is going through. Even though it is fiction, the real feelings of August as he copes with the much-to-often, not-so-nice reactions to his “difference” really tugged at my heart strings. Why do kids – and some adults – choose to be a bully or hide behind cliques just because they are uncomfortable with someone who is different?
Different from you or me comes in all shapes and sizes. Difficult things like mental illness, physical deformities, or a speech impairment. Or trivial things like living in a different neighborhood, belonging to a different political party or not being able to follow along with a conversation. Just because someone is different doesn’t mean they should be shunned or talked about behind their back or worse yet, talked down in front of their face. That’s a lesson that should have been learned long before midlife, but is somehow still often forgotten.
At the end of Wonder, the principal of the school is giving a speech at graduation on the measure of success. He quotes from J.M. Barrie’s book, The Little White Bird: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” This character, the principal, then goes on to say, “If every single person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary—the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”
Shed the easier negativity. Be kind. Lead the way. Show compassion to those who are different. Make the world a better place.