Every once in a while you meet a gem. That understated, unassuming person who asks you to be a little better, a little kinder. It seems that their efforts are just a little more earnest than everyone else’s. That person is perhaps reassuring to you- they likely have their normal, human faults, but they are something of pillar in life. When the world seems to be going to hell, you have them to look to, an antidote for meanness, guile, hurtfulness. Maybe they’re nearby or maybe they’re 3,000 miles away, but their existence is like a breath of fresh air. Laurence Housman said: “A saint is one who makes goodness look attractive.”
And it sort of hurts when you see someone like that change a bit– not necessarily that their lifestyle is anything bad, but that it seems like they aren’t really themselves anymore. Like they’ve rejected that wholesome unapologetic optimism and happiness.
I remember in high school I drank a little, out of curiosity and rebellion. My friends were like, “Shannon, what the heck are you doing?! You’re not supposed to be like us! You’re supposed to be the good one!” Of course, there’s no shame in drinking (legally), but the the self-rejection that went with it wasn’t healthy. Like I had rejected that simple wholesomeness that had attracted my friends in the first place.
And you see that rejection in those salt of the earth people on occasion when they change and sometimes in more extreme ways– like exchanging purpose and generosity for cheaper social currency- toxic conversation, sneering at earnest people. Becoming hard and ugly on the inside. These things are contagious, especially if your friends seem to value those things. In the real world, without quite a bit of awareness and work, it is HARD to be entirely immune to this.
I feel like when these rare, beautiful people have stumbled, and then confided in me about feeling lost or broken, I have said the wrong thing, almost without fail. I am obviously *not* that salt of the earth person; I usually resort to some sort of frustrated lecture.
So what do you say when someone like this confides in you? I think you say something like, Thank you so much for telling this; I feel so privileged that you would share it with me. What you are going through sounds so difficult, and I am rooting for you.
There’s not any particular organization you need to belong to, or list of behaviors that you need to go by in order to be happy, but my request is this: can you remember that wholesome optimism? Is there anyone you could just gently pry out of your life? Perhaps let go of someone who seems to celebrate your failures, or sneer at the efforts of earnest individuals? Could you go back to that unapologetic, generous, and charitable person you used to be? Withhold judgment on everyone who is trying? Find purpose? Something to leave behind when you’re gone? Or maybe run for office? As a candidate whose platform is niceness?