Do people deserve respect? These days we’re often actively encouraged to live our lives passing instantaneous judgement on others, evaluating their every move, but is that right? What does it mean when we lock people in with our criticism, rather than appreciating the fact we’re all on similar journeys in life – all working through our struggles to our own goals?
It’s really quite easy to tear people down. Everyone probably has an Achilles’ heel in some form: some flaw or point of weakness we might attack. Given knocking people down is apparently somehow satisfying, is it that relating more compassionately to another’s experiences seems a drain or burden? Or maybe this is a ‘tough love’ theory: that life’s hard and people should learn to weather such attacks from others?
I’m honestly not sure what the rationale is, and it’s probably clear from my writing here that I don’t see life that way (see Notes One). I mean, it’s so easy to throw words around, not thinking so much about where they land or how they might haunt people; but it seems to me we’re all to some extent working through our difficulties, limitations, suffering, or ignorance about life and how best to approach it. In a way, that ‘is’ life.
Maybe our paths and the choices we make do define us in some ways: shaping who we are as people; our interests, concerns and attitudes; our level of awareness; our identity, by way of image and relationships. And in all likelihood, there’s always going to be room for improvement: almost anything we do is probably imperfect, so we may well feel we’ve been mistaken in the past and could’ve done better.
We might all be imperfect, struggling on in our unique way, making mistakes as we go, but one of the great things about humans is that we can change: once we see things more clearly, we can turn them around. If we’d known better, we probably would’ve done differently. I honestly think we’re all just trying our best to the best of our understanding (barring extreme exceptions, obviously).
So, if people are stumbling, making mistakes, attempting things imperfectly, they’re probably learning. And really, what’s life if we don’t allow people to learn – to move beyond their initial limitations? If we’re demanding and policing ‘perfection’, are we locking people into ignorance for fear of interpersonal conflict?
It’s hard enough to risk something new, to unpack and rework the raw material of your life without that. Because, while I do believe there’s always freedom to change, it’s not easy to get to grips with yourself and decide what to do for the best: do you let the past define you, resigning yourself to that reality; or somehow find courage and insight to overcome what you find there?
Really, I just wonder if we couldn’t make slightly better work of being human – perhaps by extending our understanding of life to others through empowering gestures of empathy, rather than pulling one another down.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Does anything exist in isolation?
Note 1: Living as an open wound
Note 1: “Wisdom” by Andrew Zuckerman
Note 1: The idea of self reliance
Note 1: Value and worth in our relationships
Note 1: Counselling, listening & social identity
Note 1: Pick a side, any side
All of this very much follows hot on the heels of Starting over in life.