I took the title of today’s blog post from a scene in the original Star Wars. Fans of the franchise will no doubt recognize Han Solo’s remarks on the intercom while impersonating an Imperial stormtrooper.
I chose that title because I feel like I spend a lot of time having that exchange with people. It’s what’s expected, right?
You see someone and say hello. They ask how you are, and you ask how they are. Both parties report something like, “I’m fine” or “I’m doing well, thank you for asking.” You smile, maybe exchange a little personal information if your relationship warrants, and then you hurry on with your day. So many places to go, things to do, people to see.
It’s a quick exchange, designed to show that we see the other person, we’re acknowledging our shared humanity, and we’re being polite. It’s a pro forma exchange.
But I’m guessing it’s not an honest one for most people. I don’t think most of us honestly see one another. We’re horrible listeners, often mired in our own worries or preparing our responses to the other person, which prevents us from hearing what they say.
We rarely acknowledge our own humanity, let alone that of others. Being human means having unwelcome fears, flaws, and failings. We’re not the strongest species on the planet. We aren’t the fastest. In the wrong circumstances, we’d be prey for bigger, stronger, fiercer creatures.
I think we all have a deeply buried instinct that fears looking vulnerable because we don’t want to be on today’s menu. In response, we spend a lot of time constructing a façade that we can safely show to the world.
The key to that façade is presenting an image of a capable person who has the requisite connections to parents, siblings and/or children, friends, colleagues, etc. Someone smart, strong, organized, successful.
We’re so busy trying to keep our public image from crumbling that we rarely notice when those around us are struggling. We patch, paint, and shore up our public image, polishing it with degrees, makeup, the right clothes, and so on. We’re like aging old houses that are perpetual fixer-uppers. Something always needs to be lifted, tucked, or disguised.
Some of us start to believe that public image.
But what would happen if we stopped repairing the image and just let our real selves come through? Would we find it easier to connect with others? Could we learn to forgive someone else’s flaws?
I don’t have answers to those questions. And I hope to hell my readers aren’t coming here in hopes of finding solutions. I’m the last person you should look to for advice. If you know me personally, you’re all too aware that I’m great at big talk, but a disaster at implementing my ideals. Flawed human? Ye gods, my photo is in the dictionary next to the word “flawed.” Go look, I’ll wait.
I am writing this because I’m trying to figure out how I see the world and how I can be better at reaching out to people with whom I disagree. We’re in a time of deep divisions, and I’m pretty strident in my views. I need to temper that passion with compassion. And I’m not good at it.
If anyone has tips on how to be more compassionate toward those who seem diametrically opposed to you, I’d love to hear them.