I didn’t mean to promise her a Christmas gift. It just felt right… at least for a fleeting second.
Even as a child I was a quickstart and fast on the draw when I had an idea that I knew I could bring to life. This lead to some awkward situations like committing myself to bring home the class iguana without asking my parents first. In this particular middle-school moment it lead to me telling a casual gal-pal that I had a Christmas gift for her.
This many years later (and honestly they have been years with a bit of embarrassment by my 12-year-old self doing this) I don’t fully remember the details of the situation or what exactly prompted me to tell Mindy I had a gift for her. I just know that there was some social pressure in that seafoam green and tan brick hallway that compelled me to want to give this girl something.
Now, she wasn’t exactly a good friend of mine. In fact, I think her older sister wanted to beat me up on a couple occasions. And I’m fairly certain we never once hung out outside of school. Or in school, really.
But I had this feeling of “Poor Mindy” in me. She didn’t come from a family with many means. Bluntly, her family was poor. She was picked on quite a bit despite having a bit of a bully for an older sister. She was called scummy. People threw wadded up paper balls in her hair and yelled “LICE!” On at least one occasion she did have lice. Her sister was “known” – as much as middle schoolers can know anything – for being loose with the boys.
And something inside me wanted to reach out to show her that not everyone here thinks your gross and untouchable.
My motivation for giving her a gift was pity. I understand this now. It wasn’t love, or appreciation, or even kindness. Pity.
There were a few textbook traumatic things that happened to me in middle school. And I remember those clearly. But this moment sticking with me this many years later has baffled me… until I began learning about story; learning about ego; learning how to coach other humans; becoming a wild human rescuer.
I made many assumptions about Mindy. And tangled among those assumptions were judgments. At the time, they didn’t seem like judgments and hell if I would have even understood the concept at that age. I thought my feelings and motivations were good and pure.
But don’t we all anyway?
We think, “Oh those poor…” and somehow that makes us good. That makes us worthy. That puts us in the better camp. Better than the people who would turn a blind eye to others in need. Better than people who would be outright cruel in their judgments and treatment of people who are different from them. Looking at someone with pity makes us feel like we are compassionate and kind of heart. Like Mother Theresa.
I don’t gamble. No real reason other than I like to be more intentional about how my money flows. But If I were a betting gal, I would bet that Mother Theresa didn’t have pity in her heart when she tended to the sick and poor. She had love in her heart. She had equality in her heart. She had God in her heart.
What I know now of pity like what I felt then, is that it was ego unchecked.
It was me looking at someone else as “the lesser”.
Maybe coaching and learning about neuroscience and human psychology was always part of my journey, and that’s why this story embedded itself nearly 3 decades ago. Because I would have a clear example for myself at precisely the right moment about what it truly is to look at someone as lesser while my ego parades around cloaked in “compassion”.
When we look at someone as lesser, we dehumanize them. In pity, you can often find that you’ve placed yourself on a pedestal. Higher than the other. More fortunate. “Thank God I’m not them.” Clearly, there is s difference, something about them that you don’t wish for yourself. Something deficient. Something wrong. Something substandard.
For all I actually knew, she suffered as much torment by other middle schoolers as I did. And her home life wasn’t strange to her at all. Maybe it never occurred to Mindy that she was different than the other 600ish kids attending Hoover Elementary and Middle. My assumptions and looking down on her life circumstance were unwarranted. But again, what 12-year old would know that.
I didn’t have a gift for Mindy. Truth be told I looked around my bedroom at home for 3 days trying to find something I could wrap and give her. I tried to assign special value or meaning to useless trinkets and pocket toys. I began dreading school as she asked about the gift one day.
I no longer remember how it all ended. I don’t think I ever gave her a gift. Maybe I did.
But she gave me a gift many years later in reflection on what it is to have pity, or impatience, or comparison for another human being. She taught me that even when we feel we are being good and kind of heart, our internal motivation and narrative may still be corrupt. And exploring the root of our thoughts even in the good times is always a solid idea.
Oh. The antidote to looking down on as the lesser? Look AT with LOVE for another human walking the planet WITH you. That will always be the right perspective.