“I didn’t say anything,” she said, “because, you know, you never want to…ask.” She whispered the last word like it was something dreadful. I nodded.
“Sure,” I said, as if I understood what she was saying. Of course. One never wants to…you know…ask.
“I didn’t want to say anything,” she said, “because I didn’t know if you wanted to talk about it.”
“Sure,” I said, as if I understood what she was saying. Of course. Better not to say anything at all, right?
“I haven’t asked because I figured you didn’t want to talk about it.” “I didn’t ask because you didn’t look bad.” “I didn’t ask because you sounded okay on the phone.” “I didn’t ask because I figured you were over it.” “I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to pressure you.” “I didn’t ask because I didn’t know if you wanted me to know.” “I just didn’t want to ask because, you know, nobody wants to have to ask about that sort of thing.”
There is something about my generation (and perhaps other generations, but I notice this particularly with my peers), that we don’t know how to offer support to one another. We have more ways to offer support than ever before: you can call and chat, text it quickly, email a line or a page, Facebook it and put it on their wall, say it in person, Skype it and say it through a webcam, instant message it, tweet it on Twitter…and you can do all of this from home, work, the car, the grocery store or an airplane. We are more connected than ever, in more ways than we ever need, and yet, I really feel that, at least my generation, doesn’t know how to “do” support.
Maybe it’s not just my generation. Maybe I expect too much from people, that’s entirely possible. One of the blogs I read has a byline that states: “Survival is a testament to someone’s strength. Healing is a testament to the community surrounding her.” It’s ironic that sometimes the very thing that hurts us most is what we need to heal. People aren’t hurting one another less—in fact, all those methods of offering support also offer other ways of invalidating, hurting, ignoring, and devaluing people. The bottom line is that people are cruel. It looks different in men and women, but the truth of the matter is—it knows no sex boundaries. Both men AND women can be cruel. I wrote a “belief statement” about two years ago when I did a youth-led service with my youth group kids at church. In this essay, I wrote about how my world had been changing, and my early twenties had been rocky purely because of all the changes going on. However, I named one constant that ran through all the chaos. There was one thing I believed in that never wavered. “In all the turmoil and change and questioning and shifting,” I wrote, “one thing becomes clear: I believe in people.” And I did. I believed with all my heart that people are good. My love for people, for the ways in which we relate and love and live, for the ways we support and interact and depend on one another—this love carried me through some difficult times. When I hit upon difficult times—when my sister had her 4th heart surgery, her 5th heart surgery, when my other sister was hospitalized for anorexia, when my grandmother died—I was overwhelmed by the kindness of others. Did I have problems with friends, with other kids, with peers and coworkers? Absolutely—but I was able to continue believing in the “good” in people. I felt my love for humanity so deeply, it seemed to come from the deepest part of my soul.
Betrayal changes that about a person. Cruelty changes that about a person. Strangers, friends, family…they can all bring about that change. I’ve thought a lot about “betrayal,” what it is, what it means, how to define it, and what it does to you. I have zero answers, purely because it is so many things, and has so many nuances and layers and ways of presenting. About this topic, my thoughts, my voice, everything, seems to go completely silent. It is hard for me to separate this issue from others all wrapped up in the same event, but it is the betrayal, more than anything, that has led to the distrust of my world and myself. How do you go from loving a friend to being so hurt you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? How do you go from having a friend email you a link to Train’s song “Hey Soul Sister” because they think of you as a “soul sister” to having them hurt you so deeply you lose your faith in your world? How do you go from trusting people one week to physically shaking in a crowd of people the next? How do you understand being able to walk through the world, trusting strangers and friends one evening, to feeling unable to trust anyone, even yourself, the next? Once the ball gets rolling, at least in my experience, it doesn’t stop for a long time. One betrayal, one hurt, one event, seems to lead to another and another and another until you’re so wrapped up in a web of nastiness that even the people closest to you seem as though they could turn on you, suddenly, and without warning.
For better or for worse, when things happen to me or in my life, my thoughts tend to go large scale and I realize: THIS IS NOT JUST ME. I don’t know if this is a healthy way of coping or an unhealthy way…it doesn’t make life any easier, I can tell you that. Regardless, it makes me realize that this is not just my story. Realizing this does not make it any less isolating, but it stokes the angry fire in me that makes me say “I’m gonna change this for other people.” I don’t know how to do this yet. I don’t know what form this will take. I don’t even know if it’s possible. All I know is that other people—other women—should not have to hurt at the hands of men. Other people—other women—should not have to hurt at the hands of other women. (And of course, men should not hurt at the hands of men, and men should not hurt at the hands of women…but I am not a man and cannot speak to what I don’t know). At the risk of being very presumptuous, perhaps a bit pompous, and maybe a little egocentric, I have a list for you: a “to-do” list, of sorts, when you’re in that weird place of “not wanting to say anything” or of being unsure if/how/when to offer support.
1.) Say something. Please, please, please…just say something. When you hear from somebody that somebody else said that your friend is having a difficult time because of X, Y, or Z…say something. It doesn’t have to be “hey, I heard from Anne that Suzie said she heard you telling Bobby that you…”. It doesn’t have to be “hey, I heard that you have X, Y, and Z going on.” All it takes is a simple, “Thinking of you,” or “I’m here” or “I heard you have something going on…are you doing okay?” It doesn’t have to be an hour long conversation. It doesn’t have to be a 500 word essay, or a soliloquy on how much your friendship means or how much you care about them. Really, a text message that says “thinking about you today” can make all the difference in the world. Consciously going and sitting next to that person in class, even without saying anything, is huge. You know how people say that “it’s the little things?” It is. Truly. Because it can also be the little things that make the big thing seem unbearable.
2.) Care about people. Care about your friends. Care about acquaintances or co-workers or strangers in line at the grocery store, just please…care about people. They are the only way we can ever hope to make it through life in one piece and are also what can tear us apart and leave us broken. For those who have been broken, who feel broken, who see themselves as broken, the only path to wholeness is through the love of people. Yeah, I know, you have to love yourself and all that…but I can tell you right now that nobody is ever going to be able to love themselves if they don’t have people around them reminding them they are loveable.
3.) Listen. Understand that some stories aren’t meant to be told—perhaps not now, perhaps not ever. Understanding that you don’t have to know “what happened” or “what is going on” or “what’s wrong” to offer support is huge. Sometimes, people DON’T want to talk about it. Sometimes, they can’t. Sometimes it’s not safe to. Sometimes you just want support without people knowing why or what. Isn’t it enough to know that a person is struggling? Listen for the pain, not for the gossip. Listen for what they need, not for the story. Listen for the empty places you can fill, not for what emptied them.
4.) Speak with intention; socialize with compassion. Rumors fly and take on a life of their own almost before they are fully formed. You can choose to believe what you hear or not. You can choose to engage in and perpetuate the gossip or not. Words hurt, even as adults. Beliefs people hold based on the rumors hurt, even as adults. Think about what you are going to say before you say it—is it something that really needs to be said? Are you saying it in good faith? What is your intention in saying it? Respect others privacy. Don’t share what might be potentially personal or private information. Of all the things on my “to-do” list here, these might seem the easiest, but are the most difficult.
I could go on and on and on about this, but I won’t. I could list what not to say, but I won’t. I could be completely self-indulgent and tell story after story after personal story, but I won’t. Really, it’s about me but it’s not. I am lucky: I know these things that SHOULD be done because I have experienced them. That is a huge blessing and a privilege not everyone has. The reason I know that these things matter is because they have mattered to me; because they have made a difference to me. And yet, I still struggle. A lot. I still hurt. A lot. I cannot imagine—don’t want to imagine—where I would be today if I didn’t have those people who DID listen, amongst all the people who didn’t. If I had not had people who “said something” amongst all those who are silent. If I had not had people who spoke with intention and socialized with compassion amongst those who spread rumors, swallowed lies, and shared untruths. If I had not found people who cared about people and cared about me, I would be unable to write this. It only takes one person. I promise. You can be that person. Do it. I dare you. You could be the ONE person that helps someone make it through another day. You can be the ONE person who restores someone’s faith in humanity, in the world, in the fact that they are worthy and loveable and whole.
Say something. Care about people. Listen. Speak with intention; socialize with compassion.