It can often seem like the values of society are not consistent with how we as humans actually function. We are constantly expected to achieve, to succeed, to never back down, to be strong, and always to “be okay.” Concurrent with the cultural heritage of the American character, the notion that we are supposed to have it all together all of the time seems slightly perverse when we think about our inherent natures-and this is especially apparent on a college campus.
When is the last time you admitted to having a problem? To feeling some sort of pain? To struggling in some way with the lights and darks that color the lives that we live? We don’t want to burden people with our baggage, or we don’t want to admit our own human realities and weaknesses to ourselves. If asked casually how we’re doing, the answer is almost always, “I’m okay,” which may not always accurately depict how we’re feeling. So what do we do? We bottle it up and keep it a secret, sometimes even to ourselves. Vulnerability is an emotion often not touched even by ourselves, let alone shared with others. To open up to our own issues is to acknowledge the humanity inside of us.
The popular website PostSecret has attempted to tackle this situation for the past few years. The project publishes postcards from anonymous individuals that contain secrets that he or she keeps, or pain that the individual has experienced, or some sporadic comedic relief and joy. The intent is to aid people in freeing themselves from these internalized feelings. As a dedicated follower of the project, I have always kept my favorite postcard in my daily thoughts. It’s a simple one. Just a picture of two people arm in arm with writing underneath: “be gentle, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It speaks to me in a way that so many retreats and reflection groups attempt to mimic. It acknowledges that despite how much we may want to cover it up at times, our brokenness is an integral and real part of our humanity, in addition to the happiness and fulfillment that we also feel.
Much of our time is spent thinking about ourselves. How we perceive things, what we’re going through, and how we respond to it. And this is perfectly normal! However, the danger arises when we forget that our problems and struggles are not limited to ourselves. Chances are that someone else, perhaps even someone close to us, may be going through a similar situation. And, these are not always painful situations, sometimes they may be filled with wonder, joy, and clarity. Regardless, when we are just so lost and confused in the world that we can’t make sense of anything, we could approach it alongside our fellow humans trying collectively to fight this battle of ups and downs in the game of our lives.
We are often so hesitant to admit our weaknesses. But, a part of being human is the struggle to make sense of ourselves, our role in our society and environment, and life itself. We’re never going to get it right on the first try, despite what we project outward, and when it comes down to it, perhaps we’re actually not always okay. We are messy and broken but also simultaneously authentic and alive, and that, in itself, is okay.