Be Gentle, Be Honest, Be Kind
This newsletter is a certain kind of home for me. It is a safe place for us to communicate, to feel, to share ideas. It is more than I ever expected; a place where I am comfortable, and even encouraged, to be my authentic self. Thanks to you, my readers and friends.
Never has this been more true than this last week. Thank you to everyone who responded to my last post, I Am Not Okay. Some of you entered comments, others emailed me, a few texted or called. That post was shared more than anything else I’ve written to date. You confirmed on every level that I am not alone; we are each carrying this pain and doing our best to work through it and keep moving towards a better future.
You are my hope.
With some trepidation, I also posted this piece on LinkedIn. Doing so meant my pain would be visible to others outside of this Finding Home community. But there are many people that read my work there and maybe my words would help them know they’re not alone either. It was desperation that made me share with you. It was courage that made me share on LinkedIn.
A few responses made me question my courage.
Now, to be clear, I am incredibly fortunate that I have not yet experienced trolling. Nonetheless, two comments were unsettling.
The first was a woman in Amsterdam who said she wanted to kill herself. How does one respond to such a statement from someone they don’t know who is half the world away? As best as I could. Simply, as best as I could.
The second was from someone I know in London. I don’t really know her, we have only connected on LinkedIn over a shared love for nature. I’ve responded to some of her posts and she has responded to some of mine. Only this time, the response wasn’t positive.
I’m pretty sure she read only to the first real paragraph and then stopped. This is the paragraph where I say (a bit abruptly) that I’m okay with bows for hunting. That bows require strength and skill and bow hunters are not hunting for sport but for meat, meat they will eat.
Perhaps I didn’t adequately connect these comments to how easy it is to purchase a rifle, leading to a lot of lazy unskilled fools who hunt and wound animals. None of this is to say I’m a fan of hunting but just that I understand it better from knowing those who do.
And I didn’t say that I was a vegetarian before I moved to Idaho. A real vegetarian. For twelve years I ate nothing that was a sentient being (and yes, that includes no seafood and no poultry). I wasn’t a vegan – I’m not sure I could ever give up eggs and cheese – but I was most certainly a vegetarian.
But none of this matters. It doesn’t matter that in our response and replies I became confused about the real issue she was objecting to. Was it hunting? Bows in particular? Animal cruelty? Eating animals? It didn’t matter that she most certainly hadn’t read my entire piece or that, as a Londoner, she may not have any context for what was happening in the U.S.
In the end, all that mattered was that she had been triggered, and her response was due to her caring. So the best reply I could offer was to recognize this. I told her I respected her, her feelings, and her commitment to a better world. And, finally, I repeated that I was hurting. I told her I was fragile at the moment and hoped she would understand that I couldn’t rationally continue the conversation.
She neither liked my reply nor responded to it. Only silence. And that’s okay.
I wish I could have stepped outside of my own pain to better understand hers. But at least I recognized that I couldn’t. At least I could see that she wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me; what she cares about is essentially the same thing I care about, even if we are, at the moment, approaching it from different entries. We both want the world to be kinder. We both want less suffering and less violence for people, for animals, for the earth.
I wish I could say I always respond this way but, of course, I don’t.
I work with someone who is very upfront about her mental health. She will tell you even if you don’t ask. Her struggle is intense: hearing voices, severe depression, changing medications, and trying to stay out of the hospital. I admit that sometimes her honesty feels like emotional hijacking since it can affect work decisions and our workplace dynamic. A therapist friend has even coached me on how to respond.
And – I also admire this coworker. Most notably because she continues to fight. On most days, she gets herself to work and does the work. She is pleasant and kind and sweet. And that’s admirable AF because if I were in her shoes, I might just surrender and not get out of bed.
Equally important is that she is honest about her condition. It takes courage to admit your mental state and even more courage to share it with others. Quite possibly it is this honesty that makes it possible for her to continue fighting. After all, when I shared with you, you heard me and that gave me hope.
The world would be a much better place if we were all more honest about our emotional and mental states.
If only we could just stop pretending that we’re okay. Stop ignoring our pain, our confusion, our anxiety, our fears, our doubts. Stop keeping up appearances. If we could just be more honest about our fragility… perhaps then we would become more compassionate – towards ourselves first, and then towards others.
This is still a difficult lesson for me. I hide behind the façade that I am capable and strong – which, for the most part, I am. Except that when I’m not, I hesitate to admit it. I’m afraid other’s opinion of me will change. The problem with this is that then I’m irritated when folks don’t acknowledge when I’m hurting or understand when I’m struggling. Hah! That’s entirely on me. How can others know if I don’t tell them?
The interesting thing is that when I do admit my true mental and emotional state, folks typically respond in positive ways.
Maybe someday we’ll evolve enough to always be gentle and kind, without having to know the particular struggle another person is enduring. But it’s also possible we’ll never get there unless we begin by being honest with ourselves first. Then we can be honest with each other.
Honesty is the highest form of intimacy. Intimacy is necessary to truly connect. And connection is the most essential element of home.
Thank you for being part of home for me.