The following is a stream-of-consciousness essay I wrote, and I decided to share it with everyone.
Note: I first wrote this 3 years ago, and it is incredibly relevant today. Note that it is long, but it is worth reading.
Why do we spend so much time insisting on avoiding sad feelings? Why do we spend so much time running away from the hurt we feel? In our culture, being sad is like a social death warrant. No one wants to be around a sad person. So, even when what we really need is to just be sad, we instead are faced with comments like, “It’s not worth crying over,” or “Think happy thoughts.”
But sadness serves a purpose. Every emotion has a reason to exist. If we feel sad, it’s because we are hurting. And ignoring the pain doesn’t make it go away. In fact, ignoring the pain can make it worse. Generally, none of us would go up to someone who had just broken their arm or leg and tell them not to cry or to find something pleasant to think about. Just the suggestion that anyone could be that crass is slightly horrifying.
Yet emotional pain is treated as somehow lesser than physical pain. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that emotional pain is invisible – physical pain is, for the most part, visible. But just because someone can’t see your pain doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. It doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to feel that pain.
In fact, I’d say that you have an obligation to yourself to feel the pain of sadness. Because we cannot heal without feeling – we cannot heal by turning ourselves into apathetic monsters. It is when we do this that sadness turns into depression. Depression is sadness and anger magnified a thousandfold because the emotions are being denied. It becomes a vicious cycle of “I shouldn’t feel like this – I should be happy. Why am I not happy?” And our focus becomes how happy we are failing to be, rather than how we cope with our sadness.
All of the suggested coping methods entail trying to force yourself to be happy – that does nothing but exacerbate the problem. To cope with sadness, you have to allow yourself to feel sad. You have to be okay with being sad. Okay with crying. You have to learn to tell yourself that sadness is just another part of life – a normal part of life. And it doesn’t matter what makes you sad – emotions are personal. Out of everything in our lives, the one individual component that no one else can steal from us is how we process the world through our emotions.
Instead of cherishing our own world views, however, we drown ourselves in anxieties like “If that situation makes him/her happy, it should make me happy, too,” or “If that situation makes him/her sad, it should make me sad, too,” or “If he/she likes that particular type of person/show/movie/thing/etc, then I should, too.” But why? Why should we try so hard to be like everyone else? Why do we need to mimic the emotions of the people around us? If I see a scene in a movie that moves me to tears while everyone laughs around me, why should I pretend to laugh with them when my emotions aren’t synchronized with theirs?
Why are we forbidden from being who we are, from wearing our hearts on our sleeves, and being honest about what hurts us? Why do we have to consider everything we do from the perspective of how everyone else will view us? Why do we have to worry so much about making an impact on people? On the world? Why are we not allowed to worry about the impact that others have on us? About how the world is seen through our eyes? Why is it so much about everyone else and so little about self?
Ironic, perhaps, to say it this way – but our society isn’t a selfish society – we aren’t self-focused, we aren’t self-absorbed. We are other-focused – we are other-absorbed. We care so much about what we look like, what we wear, who we’re seen with – not because we’re afraid of our own reputations, but because we’re afraid that other people will look down on us for the choices we make. We are afraid of being judged.
So, we pre-judge ourselves because we are already inclined to view the world through the eyes of “others.” We don’t see ourselves. We don’t see our own strengths or weaknesses – we let other people tell us what we are good at, what we fail at, and what we are sort of okay at. We let everyone else invent our personality. We let everyone else shape the way we view the world. We let everyone else tell us what to think.
None of us consider this – none of us think about this. We are too busy wondering whether the boy (or girl) we met at a party (club/bookstore, wherever) will like the way we look better in this or that outfit, whether he or she will find our jokes funny, whether he or she will be impressed.
But we don’t ask ourselves questions anymore. Now, we let other people feed us answers. “How do you think the world got here?” transforms from a speculative question to more disdainful comments like, “Go read the Bible,” or “Go ask a preacher,” or “I don’t know, go look it up on Google.”
I really do wonder how many people follow faiths they don’t understand simply because their parents told them it was “the right way,” or a preacher in their church told them that “Jesus was the light,” or “Allah is all,” or “Jehovah is the name of God,” etc. and so on – how many people actually question their faith but are afraid to voice their fears?
And are these people afraid to ask their questions because of the fear that others will view them as a person who is “rocking the boat?” Are they afraid to ask out of fear that they will be ostracized, judged, condemned? Or maybe they are afraid to ask because they are afraid that if they ask, then their faith will fall apart. That the world won’t make sense because what they have always been taught to believe doesn’t make any sense.
We live in an other-centric, fear-driven world. And because of that, people are afraid to ask questions. Afraid to be themselves. Afraid to even ask themselves questions about who they are. Instead of asking ourselves questions like, “Am I funny?” or “Am I smart?” or “Am I pretty?” or “Am I interesting?” we ask everyone else. Everyone else holds the answers, somehow.
But how is that possible? How can a person who is not living inside my mind, who is not wearing my flesh, who does not have my soul – how can that person tell me who I am? Am I not the best equipped for that? Why should I, or anyone else, feel obligated to seek the answers to questions about who they are outside themselves? Why do we continue to insist that everyone but ourselves know best?
These are the questions that haunt me. This is the sadness that plagues me. Because nearly every person I have met has been lost inside themselves. Beautiful people with amazing souls, with amazing potential – and yet, trapped. And yet, trapped in such a way they are themselves unaware of being trapped. And seeing people like this – so trapped in their pain that they have gotten lost in it and are unable to find the way back to their true light – this kills something inside me every time I meet someone new.
And yet, I love meeting people. I love hearing their stories. I love learning what they have gone through, what they have experienced. But the pain they have gone through always rends my heart alongside theirs – I bear their scars with them, and I grieve for everything they’ve lost and the price of everything they’ve gained.
Because it is sadness, not happiness, that allows a person to find themselves – to embrace themselves, to learn who they are, and to be okay with themselves. Happiness is temporary. Sadness is temporary. It is the balance between the two that we are seeking – that is the hole inside the heart of every human being.
Some people think that the hole they feel inside them is the yearning for another person to live their life beside, a companion to walk down the path with them. Others believe that the hole inside can be filled by their faith. But if that were true, then a relationship wouldn’t simply lessen the feeling of emptiness – it would eradicate it entirely. Same with faith. And yet, despite having experienced an abundance of both, I have never once felt that the hole inside my heart has been completely filled.
But perhaps that is because it is not a hole at all, but simply my heart. Our heart. The heart of all life. Because no matter how we feel our hearts break, we can always recover – there is no such thing as a break our heart can’t mend. Why is that? Why are our hearts so resilient? Even when we feel weak and sad and horrible, the truth is that our hearts are still there inside us, still crying out all the pain we feel even if we can’t cry it ourselves. Because our hearts know what we don’t – our hearts know what we need. And that need, I’m sure, is different for every single person out there.
If all of us had the same heart, then how could we bear to watch the pain of another person? How could we bear to cause the pain of someone else? We hurt others. We say mean things on purpose. We are cruel with cause – but is that cause really us? Are we really looking to hurt the people around us? Do we really want others to go away crying because we said words fed to us by another about situations we don’t understand?
If you’ve ever bullied anyone, online or in person – I don’t care where – have you ever asked yourself what the person you bullied is feeling when you do it? Like, if you’re a guy and you’ve stuffed someone else in a locker, have you ever taken the time to wonder what the person in that locker must be feeling? How terrified they must be? How humiliated? And does it make you laugh? Does it scare you? Does it make you wonder what it would be like to be the one in that locker?
And if you’re a girl, and you’ve ever called someone fat, ugly, or said that a girl’s boobs were too big for her body – that is a type of bullying. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be that girl? If you are skinny, have you ever wondered what it feels like to be fat? What it feels like to know that you will be mocked, even if the weight is caused by something beyond your control?
If you are pretty and have called someone ugly, have you ever wondered how that person feels? Have you ever wondered how you would feel if someone called you ugly? How your stomach would sink with dread and horror because you did everything you could to make yourself pleasing to others, and yet someone still took the time to make the effort to tell you how ugly you look?
And if you’re a girl and have looked at girls with large breasts and made comments like “Her boobs are too big,” or “I bet she has a breast implant,” have you ever considered what it’s like to have large breasts? Have you ever wondered why girls born with large boobs are so shy about them? Do you know that girls with larger breasts worry about finding bras that will fit perfectly so that it doesn’t hurt them to walk? Have you ever wondered, if a girl does have a breast implant, what made her choose the surgery? Ever asked whether she did it to make her boyfriend/husband happy, instead of automatically assuming she must be a slut?
These are comments we all throw around without thinking. We don’t consider our words because we don’t think about how our words would sound said to us out of someone else’s mouth. If we all thought about how we would feel if someone else talked to us the way we talked to other people, I think we would all be a lot kinder a lot faster. Because the truth is, we are all often far more cruel than we are kind.