A guest post by Anastasia Chipelski:
If I had my shit together enough to have a personal catchphrase, it would be “I’m ok” (subheading: “no really, I’m ok.”) I can be pretty consistently ok, or ok-passing, but most of the time I’m also the last one to notice when I’m not. That’s a problem, and it’s not ok.
But I’ve found a trick to clue in to my own ok-meter: I measure how I feel about strangers.
For the most part, I think that the other human beings living on this planet are fascinating. Not like love-everybody hashtag-blessed fascinating, but a curious “it’s amazing how we all get by” fascinating.
Working in social services, I’ve been trusted with snippets of strangers’ stories – nervous disclosure, brash assertions and all. Whether people’s stories align with our crappy stereotypes or not, everybody, rich or poor, educated in schools or on the street, well-dressed or couldn’t give two shits – when they are struggling, everyone has moments when they feel like they’re facing their particular problem all alone.
From the outside, there is no goddamn way to see the load someone is carrying, or to know whether they feel like they’re carrying it alone.
I’m a vault of stories, and the more I hear, the more I realize that I don’t know someone’s shit any better than they do. When someone chooses to share their tough day with me, it shines a light on my own ignorance. Living in any government system is a skill. Living on the street is a whole other set of skills. Living every day in your life and keeping your own damn self alive takes a set of strategies that, quite frankly, I can’t claim to know anything about.
I know how to do me, kind of, most days, alright kind of sort of, I mean, YES! I’m ok.
When I really am ok, it’s easier to see the world with the belief that people can be weird as fuck and that they’re also all amazing. Comparing lives is a useless practice, and anyone who thinks they’re an expert on other people, well, I wouldn’t take their assertions too seriously (though I would still consider them to be oh so fascinating).
People can also be assholes, and they can be total jerks to other people, judgmental as fuck, and cruel. Exhibit one: the People of Wal-mart phenomenon, taking a sideways look at someone, measuring them up, and laughing. That fucking sucks.
A brilliant friend of mine (who has also been through the social services wringer) told me that people only hurt others when they are hurting. When people are assholes, I try to remember that those assholes are also dealing with some shit I know nothing about, with their end result being asshole.
So when I leave the house, am I ok? First check: how do I see these other human people, especially the random ones that I only catch half a glimpse of: The backwards ball-cap wearing dude who almost runs me off the road in his truck. The construction workers taking their first smoke break on the steps of the neighbourhood church. The mom impatiently pulling her crying toddler behind her, cursing aloud to the sky, and stopping in the middle of the street, making me brake suddenly to avoid a horrible crash.
We humans are judgmental creatures, and maybe we can’t help it. But if I stop to notice these judgments, I can decide which category my daily views are falling into. Fascinating? Or Everyone’s an Asshole, Kindly Fuck Off? Then I can ask myself: really, am I ok?