We often don’t like to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. As a result, we try to change the subject and focus on the weather. The funny thing is, the weather is real, and if I tried to deny it, you would not talk to me.
Let’s talk about the weather
Let’s imagine we are standing in the rain:
You: “Raining hard, isn’t it?
Me: “I don’t see rain.”
In this situation, my response would be unsettling. If I continued to try to convince you that I did not see rain, while we were both being rained on, you would probably become very uncomfortable. Yet I am often told, “I don’t see your color.”
What if I told you, “Things that are important to you don’t matter to me.” That, I imagine, would also be uncomfortable.
The definition of caring
When my mother died several years ago, people who barely knew me said extraordinarily kind things to me. Even casual acquaintances seemed to be able to find a simple combination of words to show they could relate to the pain of losing a parent or loved one.
Not one person ever said to me, “That doesn’t matter to me—I only see you.” No one said, “I don’t care about your mother’s death, I just care about you,” or “You are more than a son.”
Caring, by its very definition, means that things matter.
I would have been offended if someone had told me that they didn’t care about my mother’s death, because it mattered enormously to me. And because it mattered to me, it mattered to people who cared about me, even those who only knew me slightly.
I get these things wrong, too
Some time ago, a friend told me that he was gay. My response was, “That doesn’t matter to me. I just see you.”
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my response belittled something that was very personal and important to my friend. To his credit—or maybe because I mattered to him—he let the moment pass, and showed me understanding.
When people tell me, “I don’t see color,” referring to the color of my skin, it makes me feel like I do not matter. By saying this, they are telling me not only that my experience as a person of color doesn’t matter—they are denying that my experience even exists. The color of my skin is part of me, and given the world we all live in, it has shaped my life—just as the color of your skin has shaped your life.
Yet even though I had experienced this hurt myself, I made the same mistake with my friend. I was trying to tell him that I loved him—but what I actually told him was that something important to him was not important to me. I unintentionally told him that to me, his reality didn’t even exist. It was hurtful regardless of how I meant it.
The words we choose matter.
What should I have said when my friend came out to me? Sometimes a good friend just listens. If I could relive that moment, I would tell him: “I am honored that our friendship has developed to the point where you want to share something that is important to you. You matter. What matters to you is important to me.”
June is LGBT Pride month. Take a moment and share kindness. Let your friends and family know they matter. Let them know you love them because of all the things that make them who they are.