The Worst of Me

This is going to be weird and probably embarrassing, but it’s been bothering me all evening, and what’s the use of this thing if I can’t try to pound out some serious thoughts every now and then?

Sometimes, I see the worst in people.  And I don’t mean I emphasize their bad habits or use one mistake to judge their entire personality.  I mean I’ll take one look at them and assume their lives are miserable, and feel this overwhelming wave of sympathy for someone who, for all I know, could be a happy, well-adjusted person whom I’m judging totally based on their appearance.

I’ll see an overweight person and imagine them home alone, friendless, distraught with the body they’re trapped in.  I’ll see an old man and wonder about his lonely days filled with thoughts of his pending mortality.  Just tonight I saw a man who’d clearly had reconstructive surgery for a cleft palate and thought to myself, “That poor guy.”  Never mind that he was happily buying groceries and amiably chatting with the cashier and that the only person seemingly concerned about his condition was me.  No, I had to fit him into this preconceived Lifetime movie narrative where he was so brave for just leaving the house.

And I really dislike myself for it.  Both for conjuring up these scenarios, and for doing nothing to disabuse myself of these assumptions.  Do I talk to these strangers, say hello, ask them how they’re doing?  No.  They’re just extras in this little drama I invent inside my head.  I may not be treating them badly or discriminating against them, but I’m staring and judging just as much as someone who would, regardless of the intentions.  Some of it I’m sure is caused by an overactive imagination that can’t just take something at face value, but part of it, and the part that really bothers me, is that I think it’s a chance for me to congratulate myself on being sympathetic without really having done anything.

And it’s not lost on me that this post could be construed as doing the exact same thing, asking you all to read this and think, “Oh what a sensitive soul to be so troubled.”  But I think it’s more a rambling way of working this out than some appeal for accolades.  I don’t think I’m a bad person; just one who maybe thinks this way because he’s trying too hard to be a good one instead of just being a good one.

I looked for the guy as I headed out into the parking lot tonight, hoping to bump into him and exchange even a cursory greeting.  I felt I owed him that much.  But I didn’t see him.  I doubt he’d have understood anyway.  Maybe the best thing I can do is stop doing what made me feel like I had to atone in the first place.


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