Too often, we find ourselves quick to judge others, only to realize that our naïve assumptions could not be more inaccurate. What is it about human nature that causes us to immediately form opinions about people even before we have a chance to get acquainted with them? When you jump to conclusions, you may fail to realize that there are past experiences or present struggles beneath that individual's exterior that accounts for their present day behaviors and actions.
Behind the smile you see your co-worker wearing daily lies a decade long battle with a difficult eating disorder. After two relapses, she has still yet to fully recover from such a mentally, physically, and emotionally draining ordeal. The smile she wears and that bubbly personality she exudes -- it is simply a coping mechanism she uses to displace her pain and constant battle with herself. She often finds that her mind and conscience are separate and detached entities, unwilling to compromise. She constantly strives to attain an image of "perfection" and whenever she looks in the mirror, she never feels a sense of satisfaction with the image she sees.
Some people measure happiness in terms of money or time, but for your co-worker, gratification and contentment are foreign emotions that she is incapable of feeling because she bases her happiness solely on a set of numbers she observes each morning as she steps on the scale. Underneath her exterior, a constant psychological battle ensues each day during which she tries to justify her actions. However, never once does she hint at what she is suffering from, for fear that you will look at her differently, with disdain, as in why would someone engage in life-threatening behaviors in order to achieve such vain ideals of beauty?
Behind the smile the barista at the coffee shop greets you with each morning as she hands you your order lies the spirit of a lost soul simply trying to find her purpose and way in this world. She was not always like this, for when she was younger, she possessed a free-spirited mind that ran replete with imaginative ideas to the brim. Fast forward a few years later to high school when her peers exhibited little tolerance for her novel ways of thinking and unique sense of personality, she gradually lost her spunk and became more reclusive, often keeping to herself.
Those "friends" that she once used to have sleepovers with, the ones she gossiped about boys with, the ones that she played dress-up with were friends no longer. They snickered as she walked past them in the hallways and whispered behind her back, making her awfully self-conscious and weary of anyone trying to make their way into her life. She lacks the self-confidence she used to carry with her and she still deals with the painful consequences of bullying that her friends subjected her to, but she skillfully covers that up with her pleasant smile each morning.
Behind the smile your best friend warmly offers you each weekend as you meet up for brunch lies a daily struggle with depression. He yearns so desperately to let you into his world, but something stops him in his tracks as he attempts to narrate his ordeal. He cannot bring himself to tell you about how his thoughts are constantly consumed by "what-ifs," about how he lies awake in bed each night questioning himself, his choices, and everything around him, or about how he finds it difficult to focus on the simplest of tasks because his mind keeps wandering off. Maybe he finds it necessary to uphold the male stereotype of invincibility and strength, which he would break upon discussing his struggles and exposing his vulnerability. He will eventually reach the day when his world comes crashing down, leaving him raw and bleeding on the inside, but all you will see is his coat of armor.
Behind every individual, every person, every face, there remains a powerful story filled with struggles, triumphs, and experiences to be uncovered. The secret to uncovering that story? Perspective. Perspective is so important in understanding where someone is coming from and realizing that underneath all of the beautiful smiles that we all put on, we are all fighting our own personal battles. More often than not, it is easier to keep these emotions to ourselves so as to avoid questions and stares, but with a little patience and perspective, you will soon see each individual's circumstances with that much more clarity.