Don’t Hide Out Inside Yourself

In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion sprawls the world’s true strength. We often feel sympathy more easily for fictional characters than for real people. One reason is that sometimes we get to know fictional characters more deeply than our family members and friends. Too often in real life, we keep aspects of our true selves concealed and fail to spot an important opportunity to bond with other human beings.

How many times has this happened to you? You run into a friend, sometimes a close friend, who says, “How are you doing?” and you say, “Good! How are you?” and the friend say, “Good!” Meanwhile, you’re not doing well at all, and later you find out that your friend hadn’t been doing well.

I’m not telling that we all become confessional and make known our secret fights, fears, and pains with everyone we meet. But I am suggesting that you don’t have to feel alone. When you take a chance and share a hidden part of yourself with someone, it’s amazing how often people respond with.

Whatever you’re feeling, someone else has felt it. Whatever you’re going through, someone else has gone through it. You may feel alone, especially if what you’re experiencing is frightening or painful, but you should assume that you are not alone. We all carry a card in our pocket. We all carry around private pain and regret and fear—the things about ourselves we are most afraid to let others know. What is written on the card in your pocket? Does it say that you were abused or that you are depressed, or that you have an addiction, or that you were unfaithful to your spouse, or that you’ve always been afraid that you’re not good enough?

A useful training is to write what your card would say, then ask yourself: Do I believe that I’m the only person in the world carrying around a card that says this? What would I say to someone right now who hand me a card that says exactly what my card says? Whatever your card says, someone else is carrying around the same card. It’s likely that many people are carrying around the same card, but most of the time we don’t know it. Every person you see today, everyone you interact with, has a card in his or her pocket, and it weighs much more than any piece of paper. This is especially useful to keep in mind when someone mistreats you—when a driver cuts you off then makes a crude gesture, when a co-worker talk down to you, when someone you love is unkind.

Not in the slightest should we stand for unkindness or abuse, but once we are removed from the situation, it can help to remember that all people carry around cards of suffering, even if we may not know what their cards say. It can be easy to judge or pity others when they reveal their sufferings.

Whatever someone else is going through, or has gone through, someday you may too. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Pain is something all human beings have in common that becomes the most beautiful thing about us.

Imagine a world in which we know each other’s pain and fear. Imagine that they are the most beautiful things about us. Imagine that the very things we’re most ashamed of, that we most want to keep hidden, might bring us together.

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