Right now I’m at a coffee shop and there’a man sitting next to me wearing a cutoff shirt whose armpits smell like a bog full of dead elk. He’s not homeless and judging by the iPad, MacBook, and iPhone he’s not living in a sewer either. It’s so bad I can hardly open my eyes and every time I take a drink, I taste that rancid smell in my mouth. Everyone around us clearly smells it and we’ve all done that thing where you look at each other, raise a single eyebrow, then nod in silent agreement that we are both experiencing hell right now.
Obviously I’m not going to tell him about it, right? But why?
Why do most of us find it more acceptable to try and get away from the issue instead of confronting it? This guy is going to walk around for the rest of the day and everywhere he goes people will be disgusted by his smell. But if you actually went over and told him, in a polite way, that you’re sure he’s probably unaware, but there’s somewhat of a foul smell coming from him and it’s very strong so he might want to correct that, most people would consider you rude. Is that actually a rude thing to do? Maybe, but I feel like it’s much worse to collectively mock someone unaware of their issue instead of just addressing it directly.
It’s interesting because we do this all the time with people in our lives. It’s probably not necessarily body odor, but how many times have we seen someone struggling or making terrible life decisions and instead of going to them and seeing if we could help, we go to our other friends and discuss it “out of concern?” I know there are times when you need to get advice from friends on how to approach a delicate situation, but if we were truly concerned we would at least call the friend in trouble and check on them in a non-aggressive way.
“Hey man! I was just seeing how you were doing. We hadn’t really hung out or talked in a bit so I just wanted to check on you and see what’s up?”
You don’t have to say I KNOW YOU’RE THROWING YOUR LIFE AWAY AND YOU NEED TO FIX IT NOW YOU AWFUL IDIOT! You can kindly help someone through a tough time or correct a problem without attacking or humiliating them.
In 2011 I hit a really low point in my life. I had lost my job, lost friends, and every aspect of my life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I was so depressed there were some days I never got out of bed. I would wake up and couldn’t find a single reason why I should move. I’ve never been much of a drinker at all, but I would drink any chance I could get just to try and escape. One day I went to my parent’s house and, out of nowhere, I just laid facedown on the floor for an hour. I didn’t say anything or do anything. I just laid there. I was so deeply depressed that I couldn’t function. This led to really dark or angry posts on my Facebook and Twitter account, and that was never my personality. Obviously there was something wrong.
I found out a few years later, when my life and turned around and was better than ever, that several people I knew would call members of my family talking about the awful things I was saying and how messed up I appeared to be. It was “out of concern”, they claimed. Wow thanks for the concern! I appreciate you not sharing any of that concern with me in any way, but instead going to everyone else to see if they also saw these signs and talk about how awful it had become. Do you know how desperately I needed one of those “concerned” people to get in touch with me in a loving way to check on me? Clearly there was a problem there, but instead of helping, they just wanted to gossip about it.
That’s the opposite of concern.
Don’t just sit on the sidelines talking about how your friend’s life is falling apart while watching his life fall apart. Friendship is being there when it might not be easy and it probably won’t benefit you. Love goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be solving their problems, but simply letting them know that you love them in spite of their problems. If you have someone in your life you see tumbling out of control, don’t just talk to your other friends about it and expect it to change. Do something. Invite them out. Go over to their house with a movie from RedBox. It’s a dollar! That little bit of interest and that small expression of love may just be the thing to help get them back on track and find a glimmer of hope in the middle of darkness.
It may not always be easy, but if you’ve ever been in a similar situation you know how much of a difference the littlest gesture of kindness can make.