I am still haunted by a survey response I received a few years ago highlighting the fact that somebody who smiled in the office was experiencing such inner turmoil that they would self-harm in the toilets. I am reminded of the phrase 'tears of a clown'. That friendly girl on the checkout who always smiles who is currently experiencing a bitter a divorce; The mechanic who always repairs your car who is battling depression; The man who serves you coffee every morning who is battling anxiety and the very fact he makes it to work every day is a huge accomplishment; The Doctor who is experiencing domestic abuse; That friend who is always there to support you, who is being bullied at work.
The list is by no means exhaustive, yet highlights the battles that we don't always see. It's easy to make assumptions and even judgments on people, but how often do we act impulsively with little thought or reflection? We live in a society where it is sometimes easier to be ignorant or evasive. We have societal expectations about how people should behave, what they should feel and how they should present themselves in certain situations, but actually this in itself can form part of the problem. The pressures to adhere to how you feel you are expected to be can cause great distress. This in turn means there is less chance of disclosure, which can result in an external smile and an internal cry for help.
We have a fear of being judged and will try to hide things, but what happens when there is something we cannot hide? We have recently seen a dramatic increase in racial hate crime, which makes me feel an enormous sadness as well as shame. One of the main problems is that we see only a nationality, a colour, a perception of what we believe that represents. We cease to actually see a fellow human being. That Spanish person you insulted is a Doctor who dedicates his life to helping and saving others'; The Polish person you told to leave the country actually volunteers at a homeless shelter and dedicates their life to helping other people; The German individual whose car you covered in graffiti was actually born in the same country as you; The Dutch person whose house you vandalised is a nurse who works countless hours to help others.
It's very easy to hate, because it gives us something to direct our anger at. It's easy to not accept things which may challenge our preconceived ideas or prejudices. It's much easier to castigate somebody for being different as it deflects the attention away from ourselves. What takes more courage is challenging not only others' perceptions, but also your own. To change anything we must at first acknowledge and accept its existence.
Reach out to people with a hand, not with a stick. Listen to people with an ear and not a judgment. Talk to people with encouragement, not condemnation. Respect and embrace difference, do not condemn it.
Thanks for reading and stay safe friends.