It's an unfortunate side effect of the human condition: Vulnerability. What people think about us matters. No one likes that reality, but it's no less true. We try to fool ourselves into believing the only opinion that really matters is our own. Except when we need to earn. And there it is again. Vulnerability.
But aren't we all vulnerable? Yes...though some of us are more vulnerable than others.
It's not just about socio-economics, "race," ethnicity...the biggest, most obvious difference people latch on to, at the very basic level of existence, is gender. I have breasts and a vagina...oh, and less muscle mass than the average male. Though I can create whole people in my tiny, "weak" body, because I cannot physically defend myself against a larger, more muscular male, society has decided that if I take it upon myself to reject a male, any male, I'm a "bitch," a "whore," "untrustworthy," "questionable," "over-zealous," "greedy," "aggressive," and a number of other less-than-positive descriptives.
About ten years ago, a number of my female friends, mostly a decade or more older than I, were going through separations or divorce. Admittedly, I did not understand why. Of course, "why" is never the right question....
Today, I now sit 1,000 miles away from my partner, a man I loved for decades. A man I was loyal to. A man I helped to support, not just emotionally, but financially, too. A man I raised a son with. Shared everything I had with. A man I trusted completely, even though sometimes, that trust was unearned. And yet, today, this same man told me how "everyone" he knows--family and friends--are telling him how great he is, and how awful I am. It caused the two of us, who are still very good friends, to have a tremendously difficult and emotional discussion. One I will share a piece of now:
In response to my now former partner's claims of inequity, prompted by the people who claim to have once loved me and supposedly love him, I had to clarify a few facts:
Unfair is not being able to get out of bed without putting on an orthotic brace and tie shoes. Unfair is not being able to take a simple shower, without changing into a another orthotic brace and water shoes, or, dragging a dead leg into the bathroom and hoisting myself onto a bath bench. Like a person twice my age would have to do. Unfair is being 20, and then 30, and dealing with malignant cancer. Unfair is having to go through chemo at 30, severely minimizing my chances of building a family. Unfair is not being able to walk without multiple forms of assistance for the last 13 years...and, for the rest of my life. Unfair is knowing that my life will be infinitely shorter than the average woman. And no, it's not pessimism; it's the facts of my disease. I've even seen my death. Many times. Watched too many pass through the veil in the last decade. In one 12-month period, I lost 15 family members and friends. Unfair is having to move 1,000 miles away, leaving everyone you know and love behind, including your beloved baby-dog. Unfair is living with courage despite it all, smiling every day, moving my life forward and yet...and yet, being scrutinized instead of celebrated for it.
Is it fair to judge a person when you yourself have never been dealt the same hands of fate? Is it fair to assume that because I smile, I'm unaffected by all that has happened to me? That, I somehow don't deserve happiness? Is it? The irony is, the same "caring" folks chiming in today didn't lift a single finger to help me, my partner, or, our family during my illness. Not a finger. But somehow, today, all feel qualified to discuss the lives they so conveniently ignored when things got too messy for their delicate sensibilities. I believe it was C&C Music Factory that first said, "Things that make you go, "Hmmmm....""
Unfair. Uneven. Inequitable. These are all values assigned by score-keepers. Score-keepers never win because they never see the value in what they already have. People keeping accounts of what are essentially imaginary details are self-sabotaging, negative individuals. And we all know misery loves company.
Those imaginary details cost me five hours of my day today, not to mention more tears than any of it was worth. Particularly given how very inaccurate those imaginary details actually are. See above if you are still unclear on what is fair, equitable, and/or even. So, in the spirit of setting the record straight, and, as a piece of advice in return for the deep sorrow dished out on behalf of these "loving souls," let me offer some life-advice:
1) If you are healthy, no matter who makes more money than you, who lives in a bigger or better house, no matter who you feel has "more," you are the winner. Health is wealth. You can do anything if you are healthy. If you are not, every day is a struggle. Material wealth is only relevant if you can survive long enough to enjoy it.
2) Mind your own business. It's the polite thing to do. Good manners and all that. But seriously, mind it. And even if asked, keep your opinions to yourself. You have two choices in this world: Be a force of positive energy, or, negative energy. Why would you ever choose the latter???
3) The moment an individual begins to judge another is the moment that same individual denies their humanity: I am vulnerable. But I am not weak. I am a woman. But I am not a whore. I am a teacher. But I do not always know the answers. I am a parent. But I do not always know what is best. I am honest. But I cannot always tell the truth. I have survived a disease that most do not. For 23 years. But I am mortal.
So. Are. You.
Compassion is not just for the enlightened. Anybody can apply it anytime. Try it. You might like it. And, if you are human, YOU WILL NEED IT ONE DAY. Sooner rather than later.
The other tidbit that's terribly important: Don't piss off a writer. Especially one with an audience. I've had rather enough. Witch hunts are relics of ignorance. And this "witch" will not get burned. But I am on fire. You might want to keep a safe distance....
And now, this professor will introduce you to a TED colleague who is an expert on vulnerability, and how it is integral to living a full life. Those who spend their days fruitlessly trying to avoid it, are not really alive. Even if mine is shorter, the fullness with which I live--thanks to my vulnerability--infinitely exceeds in quality the quantity I may lack. Because I don't love half-way. And when I dance, I do it as if no one were watching:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." -Dr. Brene Brown