Life is Short. People are Hurting. Don’t be a Jerk

I walked around today and I looked at people; those passing me in the grocery store, driving beside me on the highway, filling my newsfeed, walking by the house.

I tried to really see them. 

I tried to look beneath the surface veneer they wore; to imagine the invisible burdens they might be carrying beneath it: sick children, relational collapse, financial tension, crippling depression, profound grief, crisis of faith, loss of purpose—or maybe just the custom designed multitude of the nagging insecurities and fears they’ve been carrying around since grade school and have never been able to shake.

As I looked at all these people, I wondered what kind of specific and personal hell they might be enduring, and it reminded me—so I’m reminding you: 

Life is stunningly short and it is eggshell fragile.
Most people are having a really tough time.
They are almost always in more pain than you think they are.
Everyone is doing the very best they can to get through this day, and many are going through all manner of horrors in the process.
No one is immune from the invasive collateral damage of living.

And you don’t have to save these people or fix them or give them any special treatment.

They are rarely asking for such things.

The thing these wounded and weary human beings most need from you as you share this space with them—is for you not be a jerk.

It’s really that simple.

They need you to not contribute to their grieving, not to compound their sadness, not to amplify their fear, not to add to their adversity.
They need anything less than contempt from you.
They need you to embrace the vow of doctors and caregivers, of trying to do no harm to them.

This isn’t difficult, either.

Actually, when it comes right down to it, not being a jerk is about as elementary as it gets:

Don’t impose your religious beliefs on other people.
Don’t demand that they adapt to your preferences of identity or orientation.

Don’t try to take away things that keep them physically healthy or give them peace of mind or allow them access to education or opportunity.
Don’t put obstacles in a parent’s way of caring for their children or working to support them or guiding them safely into adulthood.

Don’t tell people who they can marry or how they should worship or where they can call home.
Don’t do things that make them more vulnerable to sickness and sadness and stress.
Don’t try to keep people from having things that you take for granted.

And strangely enough, it’s actually so much more work to be a jerk to people—and yet so many seem hopelessly bent on it.

Right now in America we are seeing what happens when people discard the Golden Rule; when they abandon simple decency and choose enmity; when they feel compelled to show cruelty to strangers; when another’s sorrow is of no concern.

On social media, in our school hallways, in our neighborhoods, even in the highest levels of Government, we are seeing an epidemic of malevolence; men and women seemingly driven to be hurtful and to do damage—human beings compelled to be jerks.

Friends, I wish I could find a more eloquent, more poetic, less abrasive way to say this, but I can’t. 

At the end of the day, so many of the grieving, struggling, fearful human beings filling up the landscape you find yourself in today, are hanging by the very thinnest of threads.

They are heroically pushing back despair, enduring real and imagined terrors, warring with their external circumstances and with their internal demons.

They are doing the very best they can, sometimes with little help or hope—and they just need those of us who live alongside them to make that best-doing, a little easier.

These words are for me.
They’re for you.
They’re for ordinary people.

They’re for our elected leaders.
They’re for our President.

Life is short.
It is extremely fragile.

People are grieving.
They are struggling.
They are hurting.

For God’s sake and for theirs—please just don’t be a jerk.

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.