There’s a childish expression that parents and adults use to encourage their urchins to play and get along well with others that says “sharing is caring,” (since apparently the only way this society can communicate with children is to rhyme). It’s a neat little attempt at a seemingly innocent and innocuous lesson, but like so many things, once it’s actually put into very real practice, it is perhaps one of the most devastatingly hard lessons to learn throughout life when we come to find out that, for the most part, all sharing does is invite pain.
To be clear, I have no problem with people who want to share. And by now I hope you’re smart enough to figure out that we’re not talking about toys, cars, money, or other tangible, materialistic things. Loaning, or even giving, people goods and services to help them find their way is simply one form of being a compassionate and/or helpful person.
We’re talking today about sharing yourself; your feelings, your body, your emotions, your dreams, goals, desires, and even your fears. Do so at your own peril.
The premise is a most depressing, if not totally accurate one; most people suck.
Sorry, but if you have a naïve, innate demand to believe that most people are good, then this isn’t the place for you. When I say most people suck I am not placing them in the columns of the worst of humankind alongside Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Prius owners. Rather, I am demanding that we acknowledge openly that most people, myself included, are damaged, in some way, emotionally. Beyond that, you must also recognize that most people make themselves feel better by damaging and hurting others. It is a sad but undeniable fact of human life and, interestingly enough, more so in America than anywhere else. At the risk of quoting a quack, Dr. Phil, years ago when he was actually trying to help people and not just sell supplements, coined the phrase “those who hurt, hurt others.”
Examples are endless, but start with the simple and move to the more advanced; as a child you learn that when you tell your friends what you like, you will be ridiculed. “That team is stupid,” or, “why would you want to waste your time doing that?” and on and on it goes. As you move into adulthood, you have the pleasure of having your friends and family tell you whether or not the people you are attracted to are acceptable. Many have the ever-so-enjoyable experience of being told that their career path or choice of college is wrong, no matter how passionate the person pursuing such is.
Hobbies are derided as a “waste of time,” car choices are constantly put down, clothing and style are endlessly and mercilessly demeaned. Eventually, even your favorite beverage will be called “stupid,” or some fine synonym thereof.
All of these examples are the result of one thing; access. A person cannot demean your choice of beverage if they don’t know what it is. No one can tell you your significant other is ugly, fat, stupid, or not acceptable, if they never meet the person. And how can anyone make fun of your outfit if they never see you?
Unfortunately, in the real world we need to leave the house. In fact, most of us want to leave the house and every time we do, we’re opening ourselves up for ridicule. Clearly, becoming a hermit is not the answer, but neither is sharing everything, especially if you still childishly believe that people are good. They are not; most people walk around, not even aware of it, looking and hoping for a way to find something about another person that they can openly judge, demean, and put down, as a way to heighten their own self-worth, if only for a moment. While it is true that these people must not be allowed to win, it would also be an exhausting endeavor to eradicate and confront them all.
So where’s the balance? Therein lies the rub.
It is oh so easy to simply say (and much harder to do) “I don’t care what other people think.” Personally, that is a very freeing statement and, for the most part, is how I try to approach life. The problem with that mantra is that it really, only, truly, applies to some people. It is impossible for you to not care what people that you care about think. And the only way you can learn to care about certain people, and to have them care about you, is to engage in acts of mutual sharing. Yuck…just the thought of it makes my skin crawl.
How many times have you been in an argument with a significant other who, out of nowhere, pulls out a piece of information about you that only they have access to and which has nothing to do with what you’re talking about, and they proceed to “throw it in your face?” For example, you and he are arguing about money problems and suddenly he says “yeah, well at least I didn’t get Chlamydia in high school, slut.”
How could such a moment have been avoided? She could have never confided one of her most deeply held, darkest secrets of her past. By keeping that to herself, she would have protected it from the attack of her significant other. She also would have kept the man she’s supposed to be in love with at arm’s length, forever preventing the closest of bonds, which doesn’t sound like much of a solution. The obvious answer is that she could have chosen a better mate; perhaps the hardest of all of our pursuits in this society.
Not sharing is not the answer. Sharing everything with everyone is also not the answer, unless you want to and feel capable of, absorbing everyone else’s toxicity.
My girlfriend Ashley is more of a sharer than not; although she’s slowly picking and choosing who she shares with. Too many times she has come home upset over people in her life and their inability to be happy for her, supportive of her, and share with her in a moment. After she got her first Rolex, most of the people in her life dismissed it, felt it was a waste of money, and didn’t care how beautiful she thought it was. Envy personified. How does she avoid that? Wear the watch proudly and only mention it if someone else brings it up. Stop thinking other people will be happy for your successes; same was true when she got her latest job promotion, which led to comments like “what was wrong with your old job,” and “why do you need to make more money?”
The hurtful comments and judgments are, of course, not reserved to things subjected to monetary pursuits; they can also be attacks on experiences, adventures, and pursuits of genuine joy or education. When Ashley would tell people last summer we were heading back to New York for Christmas for a second year in a row more than one “supportive” person said to her “why would you want to do that, you were just there last year?” When she embarked on a goal to compete in a bodybuilding competition, and during the 6 month long training regimen of having to bring her own food to restaurants, for example, plenty of people made the comment “why would you want to put yourself through that?”
Ashley has made the mistake of telling people that we’re thinking of getting more dogs one day soon which leads to things like “how many dogs do you need,” and “you already have three, I guess you guys love hair and poo.” Mentioning the breed of dogs we may get always invites helpful comments like “why another German Shepherd,” which often leads to “will Rob not let you get a different kind of dog,” as if I let or control her in any way, which is often the stuff that can hurt the most. A lot of people can handle the dismissive judgments of themselves, but when the person they love the most comes under attack, it often cuts much deeper.
How to avoid all of this? Don’t share.
How many times have you told a friend that you were working out or embarking on a new diet only to be made fun of, told you were wasting your time, or that you were doing it wrong?
I had an acquaintance once, who had heard from someone else, walk up to me and say “I heard you bought a hot tub, what kind did you get?” After answering, the first thing out of his mouth was “Oh, yeah, you’re going to have a lot of problems with that brand.” Verrrryyyyy helpful. For the record, I had the hot tub for 7 years before I moved and never had one problem. Just lucky, I guess.
The problem with not sharing anything with anyone is the distance it puts between you and them, whoever they are. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much pain you’re willing to tolerate in exchange for the joy that certain relationships bring you, but never dismiss the negative judgments being cast upon you as normal, acceptable, or just part of life. Decide who you’ll dismiss and who you’ll confront, and then know that you are not wrong to demand to be treated a certain way.
For me, I decided a long time ago to, as any motivational plaque at “Bed, Bath and Whatever,” will tell you to “Love like you’ve never been hurt.” That feels right to me. When it comes to that person by my side, I have to be able to know that I can trust them with who I am, good and bad, right and wrong, strong and weak. As the relationship grows and boundaries are laid out, I communicate to them what about me they can share with others and explain why, and then I give them all of me, and very few others in my life ever come that close. That’s what works for me, because I’m a pretty independent person who, all kidding aside, really doesn’t care much what most other people think about pretty much anything. It’s easy for me to combine the two and make a very, very short list of who will have access to the deepest places of my soul.
For most, they need more. More friends, more input, more chatter, more sharing. Go forward with who you are, but never forget that every time you share something about yourself, someone is waiting to do everything they can to take it away from you somehow. Because people suck and they always will (but you don’t have to).