One of the side-affects of my patterned thinking is that I start to think the world revolves around me. I cast myself as the main character. Why wouldn’t I? I am the one I follow around every day. I am the one whose feelings I feel and whose perspective rings in my ear.
The result is I start to build a narrative with me at the center. Everything matters to the degree it affects me. Rather than being the perceiver through which I discover truth, I become the deity through which truth is defined.
This is never more true than when I am hurting. I look around for people to blame for my hurt, and I hold “them” responsible. I count enemies and keep a score of offenses. I ask them to change. I ask the world around me to adjust.
Hurt People Hurt People
A couple years ago, I was in Thailand doing some humanitarian work centered around human-trafficking and prostitution, trying to rescue women from modern-day slavery. Along with my team, we had to prepare our hearts for the men we would encounter. The buyers. The disgusting animals who were providing the demand that makes this worldwide atrocity possible.
I was ready to hate them. I did already. They were the problem, for sure. The oppressors.
As I met and talked with a few of them, I was shocked at what I discovered. They were no less the oppressors I imagined them to be. But that was not the whole story. Knowing them made me more sad than angry. The reason? Because I saw that they were hurting too. I fought against my sympathy for them. It is no excuse, after all. But I could not escape the sadness. And the reality that they were lost and hurting. They were not here because they were sociopaths beyond redemption who just loved evil. They were here because they are hurt people who have lost their way.
Hurt people hurt people. It happens every day. Hate begets hate. Violence births violence. And when we are the victims of hurt, it is easy to forget that the people around us are hurting also.
The Two Lies
I think there are two lies we readily believe when we are hurt. The first is the one I felt in Thailand. That the ones who hurt us are complete monsters. It is true to a large degree, but monsters are oftentimes made.
This lie spreads. We start to make enemies of anyone who disagrees with us or voted a certain way. Anyone who has a slip of the tongue or says something we don’t like. We are the victims and everything done is an attack on us. Anyone who challenges that idea is a monster.
We have lost the ability to forgive. We’ve lost the call toward compassion. We are afraid if we do either, it is justifying, excusing, or glorifying the ills of this world. The reality is our inability to forgive adds to the ills of this world. We cannot see the hurt in others. Only in ourselves. And it makes the world our enemy rather than our friend.
The second lie we believe is that everyone around us is fine. We are hurting from the thing missing in our lives. We think there is only one thing missing and see other people with it, assume they have it all together because they have the one thing we are missing. Couples look happy in the park. Women with children have the blessed gift we’re longing for. We don’t have any idea what people are actually going through. In turn, we are dismissive of their hurt because it is different than ours, unknown and unseen. We make the mistake of assuming this means it isn’t there.
Our world is full of injustice. We are a world of brokenness and pain. And we try to fight this reality with anger and violence, justifying the hurt we cause by the hurt we’ve endured. It feeds a cycle of hurt with no end in sight.
There is a way for us to come together. There is a way to hold people accountable and forgive them, to recognize their hurt without excusing their crimes (and doing the same within ourselves). It begins with the maturity necessary to recognize that everyone we encounter is hurting just as much as we are. Everyone is afraid, and we do not have the market cornered on suffering or the longing to end it. We are the solution. We are the problem. So are they.