See Thy Neighbor
By judging, we deprive others of what is, next to love, perhaps the most universal of human needs – to be seen. It is only by seeing someone that we can truly be compassionate.
If you lived through the 1990s, it would be hard not to remember Sinead O’Connor, the Irish singer-songwriter who became an overnight sensation with the release of Nothing Compares 2 U, a song written by the artist Prince. Her signature shaved head was as iconic as was her unique sound. And it was not just her look and voice that created a stir. She was controversial, deciding to boycott the Grammy awards and to refuse to play the national anthem at her concerts. And then, in 1992, while guest-starring on Saturday Night Live, O’Connor stared into the camera and tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II while exhorting viewers to “fight the real enemy.” O’Connor was universally condemned. Just as quickly as she had reached the pinnacle of her fame, her career came to an ignominious end. O’Connor retreated into a long period of isolation, from which she has only recently emerged. Her memoir Rememberings, in which she reveals much of her life story, is set to release today.
Advance reviews of the book reveal a deeply misunderstood human being. It turns out we all had a very incomplete picture of O’Connor, who has suffered from mental illness for much of her life, a byproduct of the physical abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her mother. We begin to see the struggles of a true artist who felt imprisoned by the walls of her fame. And the SNL “gimmick,” no matter how distasteful to some, emerges as an act of genuine and courageous protest and personal liberation. I was among the vast majority of those who unthinkingly judged and condemned this brave woman. Not even pausing to question what might have been underneath her seemingly aberrant behavior.
This is what we do. We judge others, much of the time without any examination. It can be casual, like our propensity to mock those who drive alone in their cars with a mask on, without realizing that they very likely may have simply forgotten to remove it. Or it can be more serious, like the contempt or condemnation we direct at those who experience a very public and painful fall from grace. And by judging, we deprive others of what is, next to love, perhaps the most universal of human needs – to be seen. It is only by seeing someone that we can truly be compassionate.
What I love most about life is its continuous unfolding. The constant learning and growing that occurs if one is open to it. Sinead O’Connor’s memoir serves as yet another reminder for me of how easy it is to judge others unfairly. And of the imperative to seek to understand. Truly seeing others for who they are may be the most important gift we can give each other.
The recent New York Times essay on O’Connor is a wonderful read and served as the inspiration for this week’s post.
Here’s one of my favorite reads from the past few weeks – a story of a woman who shares her experiences on dating apps and how she navigates whether to share that she has a prosthetic leg.
I was recently introduced to the writer Matt Licata and this incredible piece titled The Trance of Postponement. It’s a must-read.