I would be totally lying if I told you I wasn’t writing this post based on a particular recent incident in my life. I would also be totally lying if I told you that what I’m about to write is not drawn from a million separate experiences in my life, all with a common theme: tearing someone down who you should be supporting.
We all know the type. And quite frankly, we’ve all been the type. Scenario A: you’re a girl growing up, and another girl is making you jealous. You feel like she’s prettier than you, smarter than you, and it makes you hate yourself. She’s even drawing the attention of the boy you like. The easy, immature, go-to answer? Talk smack about her until you’ve made her feel pathetic and small. Most of us know by adulthood that this is not how to deal with insecurities. I look back with absolute shame on how I dealt with being jealous of other girls. I’m grateful for that feeling of shame, because it reminds me to keep my integrity strengthened and never stoop low like that again; yes, ages 7-19 are rough, but we shouldn’t have all made it even harder on each other like that. Bad move.
This brings me to a more recent phenomenon I’ve noticed in a new part-of-life group I’ve joined: survivors of sexual assault (I’ll add that I’m not talking about any specific group or organization of survivors here: I’ve seen this across the board). This group is a sad one to be a member of, and it’s full of men and women who have suffered through the unimaginable. I don’t blame anyone in that group for developing some bitterness, and I think that’s perfectly normal. What blows my mind is seeing that same cattiness I grew up with start to permeate my new circle, in a space that should be so filled with love and support. I won’t even bother describing the different times I’ve seen this happen; I’ve experienced it myself with a few fellow survivors, and I’ve seen it happen between others. I always cringe knowing where it’s coming from – a deep, desperately lonely emotional hole – and part of me wants to excuse the behavior.
Except, wait; I won’t do that. What I’m about to say might sound harsh, but hear me out: You cannot ever use your pain as an excuse for inflicting pain on someone else. I don’t care how low you feel; it’s not okay to climb over someone who is just as broken as you to make yourself feel better. We’ve all experienced being torn down by another human being, and we know how it feels. Now you’re going to do it to someone else? You might be reading this if you’re not a survivor of sexual assault and say that this doesn’t apply to you. But it does. We all have pain. We all have pain that no one else has been through or seen the way that we have. When you needlessly tear someone else down (whether it’s because you’re jealous, bored, or you flat-out enjoy excessive gossiping), you’re ignoring everything that that person has ever been through, just for a few seconds of personal relief. That is never, ever going to make you feel better or whole.
I don’t mean for this to sound preachy or judgmental. Trust me, I get it. I’ve been there, and I’ve sunk into the easy way out – “I feel bad about my life, so I’m going to make this other person feel bad about theirs”. The fact that I’ve been cruel to people I should be supporting is exactly why I am so passionate about this. I didn’t feel my world open up until I made a conscious decision pre-college to stop being rude and petty. Sometimes it’s something as simple as seeing a coworker succeed when you haven’t been promoted yet. It takes more energy, but not allowing someone else’s triumphs to bring you down is always the better answer. On the flip side, mocking someone’s failures is also certainly not going to make you more successful. I would hope we’d all rather live in a world that’s functioning better as a whole because we help others pick themselves up when they fall.
It’s hard to figure out how to end this – do I finish up with a reminder to be a good person, or the quote from Mean Girls about how calling someone else fat doesn’t make you any skinnier? All I can do is apologize to anyone who has felt hurt by me in the past, and promise to do better in the future – because no matter what, no amount of pain any of us will go through in life will excuse hurting someone else.
(Disclaimer: this does not mean that if someone has hurt you, you have to continue being excessively kind to them. Do no harm, but take no shit. We’ll save that post for another day)