Last night I had a dream about a troubled orphan I met on the street—except when I met him I didn’t know he was an orphan. In fact, when I met him I was mean to him because he was being obnoxious and my reaction was: “why are you acting like this? Don’t you have parents and a home?” He said no, and I immediately felt shame. Then there was a forest fire and Alec Baldwin drove by drunk in a car, but that’s neither here nor there.
My dreams have always been so vivid—ever since I was a child. I don’t usually wake up thinking they mean anything or my subconscious is trying to tell me something, but this dream hit home for a number of reasons: I think I’m too quick to judge and I generally react to people based on my assumptions. This is not something I’m proud of—or really aware of—but part of growing up and becoming a better person is being proactive about making changes; often times that takes a lot of self-evaluation and introspection. It seems easy, until you realize that your ego is a powerful and persistent son-of-a-bi*ch that is always one step ahead of you; it’s like playing chess with an opponent that can predict your next move with a 99.9% accuracy—you’ll never win. But the ego is not invincible.
I’ve always admired this quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It resonates, because we seldom feel that others can’t relate to our adversity; perhaps, but the truth is everyone is going through something—something painful that may provoke them to act out of character—and to judge them based on that would be unjust. Of course, I find myself judging constantly—it could be a rude waiter or cashier or cab driver or my mom or my dad or my sister or my friends. But then in my quiet moments, after I’ve made assumptions, judged and maybe even reacted, I wonder about that person’s story, I wonder what hard battle they were fighting that day or week or year. Naturally, I feel the same feeling of shame that I felt when I reacted to that orphan in my dream; I want to turn to my ego and say, “how could you? How could you be so heartless?”
I’d like to believe these incidences are forgivable—as long as you are aware and work toward making improvements. Life is constantly trying to remind us that we are not alone; that our experiences, our joys and pains are in no way unique. The ego wants us to believe we are alone and that the rest of the world will never understand. But the more you side with your ego the more powerful it becomes, and god forbid you find yourself in a dark place, truly alone, because you’ve pushed everyone away for fear of judgment and humiliation. That is not an easy place to crawl out of—we’ve all been there at one time or another.
I forgot to mention one thing about my dream. When I was being completely awful to that orphan, he was so calm and unmoved by my ignorance. He must have been five or six years old, but I think he was far wiser than me, he knew that in that moment I didn’t know any better, and before I even had a chance to realize my mistake he had already forgiven me. And so this is the big lesson: everyday, your family, friends and complete strangers let you off the hook for being unkind, often times without your knowledge; your duty in return is to do the same, as often as possible, with people you know and people you don’t—that is the 0.01% chance you have against your ego.