[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
If a team is only as strong as its' weakest link, is an individual only as strong as their weakest moment? And if so, how could anyone not have empathy for weakness in others? My therapist once told me that the things I hate most in other people are the things I hate most in myself. This was helpful, if unsurprising. I despise insecurity while pretending not to be wildly insecure. Contrarians annoy me, and yet I can't help arguing in opposition. I don't like waiting on tardy individuals, but happily arrive at my dentist appointment 15 minutes late with neither excuse nor apology. It's funny, in a way, that our capacity for hatred is only as deep as our own self-contemp. Our capacity for love, on the other hand, far outweighs the love we give ourselves, or is that just me?
I thought about all of this as I lay on a sweat-soaked towel on the floor of my yoga studio. Most Mondays, Mike and I go to hot yoga, bending and twisting our stiff muscles and ligaments and pouring out the sweat one teacher likes to call "toxins." If I don't ingest anything toxic, nothing toxic should come out of me, I think as she instructs us to thread one arm under the other, wrap one leg around the other, and squeeze. "This posture is good for the thyroid," she tells us. "It's good for detoxifying the body."
I try to think of what my weakest moment may have been, and I decide that I've had too many weak moments to count. Memory is a fickle, undulating thing. One study suggested that people recall bad memories more easily and in greater detail than good ones, partially for evolutionary reasons. If something bad or dangerous happens, our self-preservation instinct kicks in and we're likely to recall these occurrences in greater detail, in order to avoid them later. Most days or events are probably not utterly bad or amazingly good though, so we tend to forget the minutiae. Forgetting the minutiae is either a relief, or deeply sad, depending on how you think about it.
But back to my original question about weakness and empathy: if a team is only as strong as its weakest link, is an individual only as strong as their weakest moment? And if so, how could anyone not have empathy for weakness in others? Probably, because we despise weakness in ourselves, but don't like to admit it. And so, we carry our self-hatred but don't think of it as self-hatred. And instead of taking a long, hard look at ourselves, we point out every flaw we see in anyone else.
There is a certain category of successful people who may be the worst perpetrators of this. They work extra hard to become successful, not exactly for monetary gain but to prove to themselves that they could be something. That they could rise above obstacles real or imagined and make something of themselves. Then, they wonder why everyone else can't just work as hard as they did. They sit in comfortable rooms in warmly lit houses and look down on cities filled with weak, lackluster people who aren't doing badly exactly, but who aren't sitting on a nice investment portfolio. "It takes all kinds to make the world go round," said Nikki Sixx. I wonder if Nikki Sixx ever hated himself, too.
"It takes all kinds" is a nice thing to say, but not such a nice thing to think about too hard. "It takes all kinds," means that in order to have wealth, there must be poverty. "It takes all kinds," means that a nice, wrinkly great-aunt who likes to crochet hats for her pet cat in rural Northwest Arkansas needs to live in harmony with the criminals and swingers and sad, demented, tortured souls of this world. "It takes all kinds," is inarguable and obvious and underscores the asinine nature of quotations taken out of context, which most quotations are.
When my therapist told me that the things I hate the most in other people are the things I hate the most in myself, he was gently guiding me toward a metaphorical mirror. Not everyone has a burning pit of bastardized self-hatred fueling them toward some inconceivable end. Not everyone cares to dissect their physical and mental capacity for non-righteous advancement, nor should they be expected to. Not everyone can stand on one leg without falling, 100 percent of the time. "This posture is good for the thyroid. It's good for detoxifying the body."
I thought about all the times I've fallen or stumbled or made mistakes. I hate making mistakes, but I enjoy the humility they bring. I decided, as I lay on my sweaty mat and listened to pithy rendition of Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," that I would try to be more empathetic and less judgmental, more self-aware and less self-centered, more thoughtful, and less thought-obsessed. How can anyone with a modicum of self-love not hold empathy for the weaknesses in others?