In September 2018, I went on a solo road trip to Tobermory, Ontario. I sat on a bench across Little Tub Harbour cooling down with delicious ice cream from The Sweet Shop. I wasn’t looking to take great pictures of my surroundings as I usually do. I was taking in the view of the calm water. From where I was sitting, that is what I saw. However, when I walked closer to the water, its clarity revealed weeds beneath.
That got me reflecting on the similarities between what I saw and human nature. I began thinking of people I’ve recently met who appeared calm and collected at first glance. As I got to know them better, I heard stories of unbearable loss, trauma, constant trials, betrayals of the unthinkable kind. I became aware of the jumbled and often messy array of emotions that occurred in response to these events.
I thought of myself too. I was happy to be there in Tobermory, just another tourist who was enjoying her pretty surroundings. At the same time, that enjoyment dampened by mixed emotions I’d been feeling with regards to a tough decision I was contemplating just before leaving for my trip.
It is all too easy to make assumptions based on what we see in front of us, especially when people appear to be fine on the surface. Those assumptions often lead to erroneous conclusions, unnecessary comparisons, possible waves of jealousy, and unfair assessment and treatment. I’ve been on both sides of all of this.
The truth is, we don’t know what people hold inside. Pain unspoken. Deeply buried sorrows. Hidden fears, anxieties. Resentments they’ve been harbouring or secrets they’ve been holding that are excruciating to keep. Anyone of us at any given moment could be experiencing such things even if we show up perfectly fine.
So let’s have some compassion for the tangled, complicated mess that may lie beneath. Let’s show some empathy for the times when we show up composed despite our circumstances, whether out of necessity, desire, social pressure or shame.
When we feel tempted to get carried away with our judgments (and those judgments will arise), perhaps we could mindfully pause, observe, and notice these judgments. Then we can deliberately choose to detach from those thoughts and be open to the idea that we could be wrong. Finally, we can reflect on our common humanity (thank you, Kristen Neff & Chris Germer), and of course, be kind to one another.