Why We Should All Be A Little Nicer

It is both a blessing and a curse that we are not privy to the private tortures, turmoils and torments which afflict the souls of those we pass by. We have enough problems of our own that we would hardly be able to shoulder the burdens of others. However, while this fact frees us, it also puts us in an incredibly ambiguous position because it means we do not know just how close someone is to jumping off the metaphorical (or literal) edge.

We should all be a little nicer because we simply have no way of knowing what those around us are going through. The telemarketer who calls at irritating hours might just have been abused by the previous ten people who answered; but they are only trying to feed their children. The teenager who says, yet again on a hot day, that the ice-cream machine at McDonald’s is not working, was herself just screamed at by the previous ten customers and her parents are currently contemplating divorce. Your colleague who was extremely curt and made you feel like an imbecile has just lost her father. If only we knew these private tortures, we would be a little more understanding and much less likely to react in irritation or frustration.

We should, therefore, be charitable in our interpretations when people are rude to us or fail to give us what we want. There is always a reason. We should be able to look back at times where we felt misunderstood: if only they knew what we were going through, they would understand why we were so rude or unfair in our responses or reactions. What we might need is just a healthy dose of imagination.

Rembrandt, A Woman Weeping, 1644.

Those who are rude suffer from a severe under-appreciation of just how powerful they are. They suffer from a misunderstanding of just how much of an impact their words and actions have on those around them. They might think that they themselves are quite deplorable and pathetic while those around them are so strong and powerful, so their words cannot possibly have any effect on them; but they do.

We simply do not know what anyone is going through at any moment. Rather than giving us license to speak and act however we want, this should prompt us to be more cautious and respectful to those around us and to treat them with the same consideration we hope, in our own moments of weakness or strife, they would treat us.

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