I’m going to go a little off-message today. I saw the linked article on a friend’s Facebook wall today and it brought me to tears. Not bad tears. Like the kind you cry when you heart is so warmed you simply cannot contain the emotion.
But maybe this isn’t off-message at all. Fitness and health are bigger than how many pounds you weigh, how fast you can run, how high you jump or how many pull-ups you can do. My own health and fitness were awful 10 years ago. I was sick, fat, weak and an emotional and mental disaster. I did not feel loved or valued, for the most part. I was angry – at myself, at my friends and at the world. I spent most of my mental energy dwelling on unpleasant things that had happened in the past and projecting my present-day self into a future that I’d already decided was rather hopeless and bleak. Gee, I wonder why I was fat, sick and weak?
Part of my time spent dwelling on the past involved resentment towards people I’d grown up who were unkind, or violent, or just mean towards me for reasons that I really couldn’t comprehend. Why does a kid mock or belittle or bully another kid? Why do groups of kids collectively humiliate, taunt or terrorize other kids, or other groups of kids?
In the process of fixing what was wrong with my life and my health one of the things I had to do was learn to stop treating my fellow human beings as “other.” If you adopt the stance that someone was cruel or unkind to you because that person is somehow different from you are, less evolved, or whatever, you’re creating an artificial screen to protect yourself from them. “Oh, he’s just an asshole,” is easy to say. Then you move on. But here’s the thing, it’s just not true. What I had to do was learn to put myself in the place of that person who said something cruel, did something unpleasant, and try to figure out why that was the place they went to in that situation. This is not easy.
It’s not easy because it forces you to accept the humanity of the person who hurt you. It forces you to resist the urge to exclude them from your circle of compassion and understanding.
In another year or so I’ll participate in the planning of my 30-year high school class reunion. Part of that process is trying to get people to show up. I’ve worked on two previous reunions and helped out in the background for other classes, and each time I do this I have this conversation with someone who, like myself, wasn’t a popular kid, and who was, more often than not, the target of taunting and downright bullying. I’m always asked, “Good lord, why would you even want to go to one of those things? I don’t want to see THOSE PEOPLE.”
For a long time I struggled with my answer. Are there people I went to school with who I’d rather not see again? Sure. But here’s the thing, for the most part they’re people who were friends back then who burned up my interest in our friendship not via bullying or cruelty as kids but due to their questionable behavior as adults. My answer about “THOSE PEOPLE” has become this:
I am not who I was as a teenager. None of us are. In the years separating our graduation and today we have literally dealt with life and death, love and heartbreak, and it has shaped us into vastly different people than we were back then. I want to go to my reunion to see some people who I loved back then and miss now, and to meet the adults we’ve all grown into.
The story in the above-linked article reminds me of my own experiences. A few people who were pretty nasty to me in high school have grown into people I genuinely enjoy as adults, and some of them have, in their own way, acknowledged that they aren’t proud of who they were back then.
But here’s the thing, I’m not especially proud of the kid I was in high school either. I picked on other kids for the way they dressed, the music they liked, etc. So did all of my friends. Nothing we did was violent, but it wasn’t cool either. And it came from exactly the same place the teasing and bullying we were subjected to came from – adolescent insecurity, being treated disrespectfully by parents and other adults, and for some, due to outright neglect or abuse.
Corner a dog and it will bite you. Some dogs are just quicker to bite than others. Some dogs can do more damage with their bites than others. But they all respond to perceived danger pretty much the same way. Teenagers are no different. As adults we look into their world and are mystified because we don’t see the crisis. From an adult point of view teenage drama looks a little bit silly, but when you’re 16 or 17 and your hormones are in total flux, and everything seems desperate and final, well, we all make bizarre choices from time to time.
So, one guy being courageous enough to openly say to someone, “I was a bit of an asshole back then,” that’s pretty awesome, but I’m not sure if it was his gesture that made me tear up, or the warm and compassionate response he got.