Respect other people’s feelings. It might mean nothing to you, but it could mean everything to them.
Has anyone ever made the simplest of comments to you that really kicked you in the gut, and were totally unaware of how insensitive their comment was?
This happens all the time. People are trying their hardest to make their way through life. Most of us are hiding some aspect of our existence that is painful and not desirous of sharing.
Decades ago, my first wife and I spent years trying to get pregnant. She was being subjected to in vitro surgeries and horrible drug concoctions that put her through misery, and I was working through the night doing extra work to pay for all of these uninsured pursuits. Over and over again, we went through the process, and continuously crashing emotionally with the news that it hasn’t happened. Unless you have been there, you cannot begin to imagine the emotional devastation of being on that treadmill while your friends jump into bed, have sex and out comes a baby.
People would ask all sorts of innocent questions in the work world, like… do you have kids? (Or any permutation thereof) When you are in that pain, you learn quickly to find a way to deflect the question with any one of a thousand responses… some of which are countered with another innocent response from the other party like, “well…. kids are a bunch of work and so expensive…. You’re lucky!” Whatever their response was, it was yet another reason to suck it up, smile politely, laugh with them, and harbor the deepest of pain, shame and horrible fear that comes with being stuck on the infertility treadmill. One person had the audacity to lecture me on why having children was a blessing from God, and that we should be more open to the idea. You can imagine what was raging through my mind at that degree of pomposity and insensitivity.
From that experience in my life, I have tried ever so cautiously to measure the questions I ask people, with sensitivity to the possible alternate reason (unseen and unsuspected) that they may be in a situation. For some it starts with horrible parents that they do not want to share about. With others, it was a rape experience that is so suppressed that it will never show, but you can sense that something horrible happened way back when. Others, it is a disability or disorder. Mental, physical, psychological. And others, it is an issue with a child or sibling that leaves them in a continuous state of anxiety or shame.
At first blush, you would have no idea that this person is shouldering such inner turmoil. Most people are readily adept at hiding it. But as you grow to understand them, you start to realize that there are unseen variables that are not readily present, but which operate in the process of them trying to get through life.
At the end of the day, any person you think is living a completely normal life, is a person, you probably do not know as well as you think you do.
So what is the harm in the addition of an internal filter that keeps us from asking (potentially) insensitive questions? And, in the event that an innocuous question delivers a response that leads us to believe that something deeper lies under the surface, to find a subtle way of letting it go without provoking the inquiry to levels that further their pain.
Hope your Wednesday is off to a bright start!