“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
It seemed to be the mantra of my childhood. Every parent, teacher, and classmate reminded me of such, repeatedly.
“Treat others the way you want to be treated,” they’d hark.
And so you’d try to hold back callous words, punches, any meanness that might cause another to feel hurt.
I watched Susan Mandron meander up the poorly lit staircase from our first-grade corridor, hand down her pants, picking at her tush, and then, finger to nose, inhaling her prize. For all to see. Everyone did and everyone was grossed out.
Susan was that kid. The dirty one. And she played into her role. She’d pick her nose and eat her boouggers during story time, glaring back at others glaring at her with a look that begged, “What?” She’d chase me and classmates around the playground, threatening to touch us with her fingertips. We’d squeal with fright, arching our backs as we dispersed, fleeing her filthy loaded gun.
I was in fifth grade when my oldest sister Miya talked to me about being nice, about being kind, about not picking on others. I don’t remember all the details leading up to the conversation, but it involved some girls being mean to me. “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” Miya harked. “Remember how this makes you feel, Beaners.”
When Miya spoke, I listened. To me, she was all-knowing and someone who was often concerned about others’ feelings.
So, the next morning, while walking from the drop-off circle, I quickened my steps when I saw Susan’s blonde, stringy, down-to-her-butt hair swaying side to side. “Hey, Susan!” She shot me a confused look that begged to know why I was talking to her. I asked her insignificant, small-talk questions, building up the courage to proclaim: “I just want to say that if I was ever mean, I’m sorry.” Her confused look grew into disbelief. “Oh, okay…” she said without much give back. As we entered our elementary school’s double doors, we parted ways. That was it. I felt a bit relieved, content that I spoke my truth and attempted to make amends, to follow through on my sister’s advice, to say outloud what many others should have said–“I’m sorry.” Yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly embarrassed, almost shut down. Susan either didn’t care how poorly she was treated or had built up such a wall that she taught herself none of it mattered, that I was anything but sincere.
I’m imperfect. I try to be as nice as I can. I think most people are great, even if often flakey. But of course, at times, I’m guilty of thinking and speaking critically about another. Our culture is rooted in gossip. We talk about what others are and are not doing, what others did or did not do to and for others, what others did or did not to or for us. It’s contagious in a way. And it takes a special awareness and control to consciously disengage from that dialogue.
But while we’re quick to communicate with others about a situation or a person, I find it rare we actually communicate directly to solve an issue, to find understanding.
When we feel someone wrongs us, we talk around the issue, we talk to everyone but the “wrong-doer.” Or, we shoot each other a text or two, avoiding a face-to-face conversation. We’re scared. We’re scared of admitting fault, of forgiving, of being vulnerable, of getting closer. So we push, we pull back, we distance. We do exactly what we were taught not to do: we don’t treat others the way we want to be treated.
So the challenge becomes: How do we work on being more kind and thoughtful? How do we improve?
How do we surround ourselves with others who are also working to be more authentic and kind? When we embrace kindness and understanding as a habit, it affects every aspect of our lives–how we communicate, how we love.
And that’s the kind of world in which I want to live.