I’ve been seeing all kinds of one-liners and memes on social media lately that speak to “cutting people out of your life” or “throwing toxic people out the window.” Tantamount to these assertions are memes that say things like “your happiness is the most important thing,” or “Choose you!”. While I agree with these statements on a shallow level, there’s a big concern welling in my gut. It’s in that place that I like to sort of listen to, and it’s been bugging me to say a thing or to that may push past the shallow level from which these memes are written, and the level of humanity for which they’re reaching.
In my world, and in the world I choose to give to my children, my happiness or comfort should never come at the expense of another. If what I need to make me happy will hurt another person, then I do not even wish to “choose me.” And in my world, people are not toxic. Behaviors are toxic…and the forces that contribute to poor behaviors. Forces like mental illness, poverty, trauma, stress, addiction, depression, bullying, coercion, and poor health, to name just a handful. When I read these memes about “toxic people” or “throwing people out the window,” I want an equal and opposite, zingy little rant to send back. Maybe it would be a question, like “What happened to love?” or a statement like, “It’s a GOOD thing to care for people, despite their weaknesses.” What happened to commitment? What happened to sacrifice in service of collaboration? What happened to looking at someone’s low points, and wondering how your low points amplified theirs, like a bad medicinal cocktail? What happened to communication, and growing together, and spending your life fixing things worth fixing, like beloved friends, elders, spouses, children, or fellow human beings?
My God, what happened to love? What happened to integrity?
And I know. Sometimes it can’t be fixed. Sometimes we must part paths. But let us endeavor to do so with respect, and tenderness, and only after we’ve done everything we can do to spare destruction and risks to the heart. Because we are all fragile, and flawed, and wonderful. We are all struggling. We are each of us, without even knowing it, adding up all the happenings of our life, be they good or bad, and ending up with an equation that we have to live with, every single day. We all have a right to love, and be loved. We are meant to share. I believe this.
So please, don’t defenestrate anyone. Don’t cut anyone out with a dull spoon of self-righteousness. Please tell me that if you need to remove someone from your life that has been in any way an important presence, you’ll go further than a meme. Please tell me that you won’t be flying along in this precious life, and look over, and with words barely audible, or a haughty smile, or some hands thrown up, push the eject button on your co-pilot’s seat.
Give a shit about people. Maybe that’s my one-liner. Since I know that we’re molding ourselves, culturally, with every little rainbow-backed ditty in quotation marks that fits under our scrolling thumbs. And if you really believe that someone is toxic, try to cipher out your own reflection in the screen of your smartphone. If you really believe someone’s faults are more grievous than your own, grevious enough to deserve a “toxic” brand and a middle-finger out of your life, maybe you’re looking for the wrong flashing red button that’s just itching to be pushed.