Some folks see the glass as half full, others as almost empty. Our views of the world are complex and the product of the totality of our experiences. If people have generally been kind and loving to us we are prone to feel confident that most of the time we will be in the company of goodness. If, on the other hand, our history has been one of physical or mental abuse we will be wary and less inclined to trust. Our thoughts and opinions often reflect the ways in which we have lived.
I’ve seen children who were aggressive or withdrawn with whom it was difficult to form a relationship. Their defenses evolved from hurts that were inflicted upon them. They learned to be wary, more cautious because they were expecting the hammer to fall at any moment. We often see such people as being troublemakers or loners when in truth they are simply protecting themselves.
As an educator I wanted to know why a child was either aggressive or unnaturally frightened. I generally found in each case that there were valid reasons for such behaviors. As my mom often told me, a student who goes home to a private hell is rarely interested in doing homework or studying for tests. They have to deal with far more important issues of safety.
I recall so many stories that still make me cringe when I think of them. I had a student who thought nothing of telling me to F… off whenever I gave him a directive. I eventually learned that he had witnessed his father killing his mother. After his dad went to prison he was essentially orphaned and angry at the world. When I demonstrated patience and understanding his vulgar language disappeared. By treating him with respect I convinced him to reciprocate. It took a great deal of time and patience to work with him, but it was worth the efforts because he eventually developed into a delightful person. With unconditional love from the aunt who adopted him and concern from his teachers he emerged scarred but no longer filled with rage.
So it is with everyone. If we do not understand a person or his/her point of view it would be well for us to learn more about what has made him/her that way. In almost all cases a person’s background reveals much about them and why they think and act in certain ways. We are indeed complex beings and our reactions are part of a complicated history.
I can still see the faces and recall the stories. The boy who seemed not to care at all actually cared so deeply that he cracked. The girl who was loud and obnoxious was protecting herself from more sexual abuse than she had already endured. The young man who appeared to hate everyone felt that he was unwanted by his parents. The girl whose grades fell precipitously was filled with fears and self loathing because she had constantly been told that she was worthless.
On the other hand those whose lives are filled with love and security tend to be successful barring some mental disease or addiction. They delight their teachers and their friends. They work hard and find success. They are assured that people care about them like the young man who was tempted to follow the lead of gang members but was brought to his senses by his parents and the members of his church. When he saw how much they loved him in spite of his fall from grace he was moved to do the right thing. He ultimately became the very good man that the adults in his life had believed him to be.
We generally respond to love, so I wonder sometimes why we don’t use more of it to solve some of the problems that plague our society. We are too quick to judge and even to condemn without ever learning what is behind actions and beliefs that are contrary to our own. Nobody likes to be judged unfairly, and yet we see it being done all of the time and we rarely speak up when we see it happening.
While I’m not one for creating trouble, I also believe in defending the misunderstood. I’ve often become the voice of someone who is the victim of unjust judgements. I advocate for taking the time to develop understanding and compassion. That does not mean feeling sorry for people or defending evil, but rather walking just long enough in their shoes to learn what is driving them. Sometimes when we take the time to do this, we find, as I have on so many occasions, that their actions follow quite logically from what has been happening to them.
Think of all of the questions that we face in society, and ask yourself why there are so many different reactions and answers. When you begin such exercises you soon realize that very little is as simple as it may at first seem. Then you are ready to work toward find real solutions.