When I was in highschool, there was a guy I thought was just the apex of cool. The way he carried himself and the things he was interested in were so outside everyone else I knew. From music to movies to ways of writing and reading, it was a window into another world.
I studied his family from a distance trying to figure out their family dynamic. Somehow, they seemed closest to my own.
His parents were also a huge influence on me. They were my teachers and children’s church leaders. And they talked to me like I was an actual person…which I didn’t feel like most of the time. I didn’t really think of them as parents, but I definitely trusted them.
Their son was my #1 role model as a teenager and the primary voice of doubt in my head for years afterwards. He was a huge jerk most of the time. Always saying things like, “You’re a loser.” “No one cares.” “No one cares what you have to say.”
He did me a huge favor by impersonating all of my self doubt.
And, as an added bonus, since we basically grew up together, I saw the times when he was hurt, angry, frustrated and vulnerable. And at the strangest moments, he would do something kind and sweet. Which was usually not taken seriously and rejected. This gave me a huge insight.
He had made his reputation and probably felt like he was in too deep to turn it around. People were already expecting a certain thing out of him and I think we all know from experience, how hard it is to destroy your reputation in a positive way and rebuild.
This made me want to try to understand why he would say so many of the mean things that cut me deep – seemingly totally unaware of what effect his words had on other people. I learned later on that this need to understand people that on the outside seem so mean is called, “Compassion“.
I might have misinterpreted the quote – “Keep your Friends close and your Enemies closer.” But it seems like it happens way too often to ignore that we have more in common with our ‘enemies’ than our friends. And get more out of it. Our enemies challenge us, push us, and make us better people. As the Joker said in The Dark Knight, “I don’t want to kill you – You complete me.”
Strangely enough, I started counting up the similarities between us. Neither of us felt like we belonged where we were. Neither of us wanted to be there most of the time. Both of us wanted bigger things in life than the people around us. Both of us had so many questions that were constantly going unanswered – and being reprimanded for asking.
The big difference was, he externalized all of his anger. He wasn’t afraid to get in trouble. He wasn’t afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. He wasn’t afraid to be in a bad mood. While I, on the complete opposite end, was terrified of all of these things. I internalized all of my anger and kept my thoughts to myself because I tried to avoid confrontation at all costs.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
This guy is the epitome of “dragons turned into princesses” for me. He unknowingly showed me how to confidently look my monsters in the eyes and have compassion for it.
Because, I realized having compassion for my monsters, my demons, my bullies – is having compassion for the darkest parts of myself.