We define ourselves in metrics: standardized test scores, salaries, GPA, calories consumed, pounds lost, profit. The hierarchy of humanity hinges on ranking in two dimensions. But we exist in three. People are deep, complicated, ever-evolving. We had a purpose before these numbers. Human survival predates most of these constructs, which means that we will persist whether or not we score where we’d like or earn what we’d like or be the best. Human survival has always relied on connection to one another. We need each other here on earth. And while we have the capacity to inflict harm, that means we also have the space to heal, to root for each other, to build each other up. Life is hard on us. We don’t need to be hard on each other.
I’m not saying screw the metrics– there is a system for why those integers hold significance. Still, there is room for everyone to win. I don’t think there’s a medal in all we do. We aren’t all going to win for the same things. But I full-on reject the notion that everything is a zero-sum game where I benefit from your failures. You, reader, are not my adversary. I am not your enemy. Your success isn’t my failure. It’s your moment, and I’m going to celebrate the hell out of it.
You aren’t great at everything, but why should that stop you? Honestly, why are we allowing some albatross of excellence to burden us from anything that gives us joy and light? Go ahead and enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it. You don’t have to be Michael Phelps to want to swim or Mozart to play the piano. Doggy paddling and chopsticks will do. There’s this absurd idea that you need to be brilliant at a craft to enjoy it. Quit disempowering yourself but resting on external permission. Summon your own enjoyment and desires. I’m bloodthirsty competitive. I crave challenges and love winning. But there will always be another prize to win, another race to run, and if you beat me, I’ll hang the gold around your neck and rejoice in your accomplishment! I will celebrate your unglamorous accomplishments. Got out of bed when you were so depressed? YAAASSS! Met that important deadline when you were anxious? You’re amazing! Ran into your ex and felt less triggered/ didn’t romanticize how poorly they treated you? BREAK OUT THE CONFETTI! A lot of the greatest victories in life are tiny, mundane, and unglamorous pursuits. I wish we celebrated them more
You also have flaws. So do I: I’m not a good driver. I’m messy. I’m not great at drinking. I gain weight when stressed. My anxiety makes it hard for me to respond to text messages, and I want everyone to like me. Flaws aren’t aren’t a welcome mat for abuse. Our flaws exist as underground cities we fear the light will touch—unaware that everyone is carrying their own subterranean secrets. And we must seek a community that illuminates all the hometowns inside us– even the ones we’re afraid to claim.
Life is HARD. It is brutally unfair. Here’s my privileged ass sitting at a computer typing a sanctimonious essay when refugees struggle for safety, while people of color are profiles, while a woman my same age ends a graveyard shift to see her kids she’s struggling to feed, while trans people fight for their right to be visible. I pulled a damn good lottery ticket by being born me. The best thing I can do with that is be a decent person. We’re in this together. We co-experience this planet.
The little things accumulate. Encourage each other with smiles. Ask for a manager to commend an employee for a good job. Quit judging people for how they’re living their lives– because most people are doing the best that they can with what they have. Give credit where credit is due. Ask “how are you?” and really listen to that response. Affirm loved ones for who they are, not what they do. Show up for people. Show up for yourself. Quit making self-deprecating comments. Because you can’t build others up if you’re preoccupied with dismantling yourself.
To be clear: I am not just encouraging you to hype everyone up. I’m not challenging you to level up in a positivity culture. I ask that you not cover every gash in varnish because it’s gruesome to view. I ask that we not abandon each other in the grit. With goosebumped skin and bruised ego, let’s link arms when we’d rather let go. Because a valid and real component of building another person up is reminding them that they aren’t the sum of their weaknesses. Every trait is another neighborhood geographically essential to the self. We aren’t all white picket fences. There are side streets and alleyways in all of us that we’re trying to hide.
We are allowed to call each other out. That is how we grow. Love hums in all the tough conversations we brave because the words need to be heard. This, too, is a part of the construction. We build each other up with constructive feedback. We build each other up with person-first language: understanding that behaviors are problematic, our defaults aren’t always the healthiest, but maybe this is the only way to know how to be. The other end of this is receiving that feedback, and even when I don’t agree, it is worth hearing. Not every observation deserves validation. There are times when the words arrive, but I am unprepared to receive them. They stew for weeks or months or years, and then, I can taste them. I can palate what was said, and I grow bigger through the process. Avoidance yields no growth. Sparing someone difficult truths to maintain likability undermines the sincerity of a relationship. And any connection where you’re risking it to discuss your truths may not have been a real connection in the first place. Because we all deserve to grow and grow safely. Of all things, I hope you never tether yourself to anyone who’d sooner cut you down than watch you tower above them. You deserve a tribe who will seek the heights with you.
We are here to edify. There is enough room for everyone to sit at the table, and if there isn’t, I’ll join you cross-legged in the floor. Kindness doesn’t always come easy. When I’m stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, angry— I feel entitled to meanness— like everyone should share my suffering. I’ve earned it, damn it! But when I hear myself, when the growls echo back to me, all the yelling sounds like hurt. I think an easy way to heal our own wounds is to not inflict them onto others. We bandage more easily when we know we’ve given better than what we got.
In the end, the job we do here is bigger than bills and jobs and the stuff you buy and social media. Our job as people is to connect deeply, inflict minimal harm, hold ourselves accountable, and vow to do better. We’re blessed to build each other up—- to build where we could break, exalt where we could exploit. Be the builder. With calloused hands and oversized heart, edify edify edify for no reward besides knowing that you made more of a metropolis than mess of this life.