This I Believe

Elizabeth - Austin, Texas
Entered on September 28, 2006

I believe the human experience is largely universal, even though all our experiences are different. I believe everyone struggles every day, and that we all fight the ache of loneliness. I believe kindness can help us heal, and I believe we are all capable of goodness when given the chance to be our best selves.

My younger brother and sister, Cameron and Rebekah, are both mentally retarded. They have Lawrence-Moon Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, which causes delays on every developmental level and at every developmental stage. While the disease causes them to need help with some basic daily tasks, they have amazingly evolved social skills and personal preferences. Along with brilliant senses of humor, they have taught me more about life and people than any other source. They are raw, unfiltered examples of what it is to be human.

I believe most of us fight personal battles on a daily basis that make us feel isolated and weird. Cameron and Rebekah made me aware from an early age that our family was noticeably different — vulnerable to judgment – and that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to take other people’s inventory. Over time, it has seemed increasingly obvious that struggle is the heart of the human experience, and we all feel it to some degree. There is a universal ache that we all understand.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then I am free to be nice to other people because, in some way, we’re hitting the same walls and need the same things from each other. This is where the golden rule has a chance to become relevant: If most everyone is hurting, and I know how I feel when I’m hurting, it just makes sense to be nice. Our personal pain can also prevent us from engaging, and it becomes easier to retreat inward by shutting out the world.

Cameron and Rebekah, though, have a way of drawing people out. Time and time again, I have seen my brother and sister tear down the defenses of strangers by innocently speaking to their struggling hearts – smiling, showing genuine interest, making introductions, and assuming they’ve just made a few friend. They’ve shown me that, very fundamentally, we all respond to the basic tenets of kindness.

I believe our hesitation to reach out to others is partly driven by our fear of looking foolish by being rejected, but I also believe we are all waiting for an opportunity to be friendly, to show our best selves. I’ve never seen Cameron and Rebekah worry that someone might not like them; they always approach people with the notion that they’re about to have fun, and it’s rare that things don’t go according to plan. Folks that might not ever initiate a conversation are invited by them to return kindness in a safe place – a place where there is no risk of ridicule or rejection – just the chance to be human in a world that seems to increasingly de-emphasize the importance of this exchange. And people always respond. I believe it is okay to assume that stranger wants to be my friend.

I believe finding and defining personal truth is a process – a process we all struggle to make sense of on a daily basis, a process that can be painful at times, and a process that can teach us how to relate to each other more empathetically and compassionately. With so many hurting people and a world in chaos, kindness and friendship have never been more important. And actually, there is far more to lose by shutting down to those around us. Cameron and Rebekah, because they don’t know that there is supposed to be risk involved in reaching out, love people the way I aspire to – intuitively, openly, and fearlessly.