In the last week, I have heard three different women dismiss significant and defining challenges in their lives. It is as if they were all reading from the same script, one that goes like this:
“I have been struggling lately because there was this event that happened before, _______.” They start to fill in the blank, and then they catch themselves, “but I don’t want to whine. Everyone has their troubles.”
Yes, everyone does.
And I want to know why that means that we must minimize our own. I want to know why it is considered “whining” to tell the truth. I want to know when it became a contest where only the one with the worst troubles is allowed to speak. And just who is the judge of that contest? I want to know why we assume that if we speak of ourselves, we are no longer listening to anyone else.
It is not like these women were trying to gain sympathy and therefore some advantage by opening the door to these moments. They weren’t trying to cut in line at the bank: “Oh, I have to go first because ______ happened, and I am still not over it.”
No. Acknowledging the truth has been conflated with whining and manipulation.
And that is a terrible thing. A dangerous thing. A harmful thing.
Sometimes the truth will lead people to act in response. Sometimes it won’t. A case in point: the simple stories that are shared on the Humans of New York website. Some of those stories have sparked huge fundraising campaigns and other offers of assistance. And others simply—no, there is nothing simple about it—have sparked readers to hear, to encourage, to stand with the speaker.
When we dismiss our own truth, when we don’t claim it and acknowledge it, we are dismissing TRUTH, not just ourselves. We are assigning a value, a rank: this truth matters, but that one doesn’t. And once we allow one truth to be more worthy than another, we have lost the essential power of all truth, which is in having the courage to tell, to hear, to witness, to laugh and to cry, and most especially, to honor.