Or, the time – rather, times – I was told to go back to where I came from. Despite being born in Australia and not having anywhere to “go back to”. Whenever I have shared these moments with others, responses can range from telling me to laugh it off, to get a thicker skin, to that anyone who says that is just ignorant, so ignore them. In theory, all that advice makes sense. But it’s never helped. It’s only made me feel more isolated and alone.
We all have things that bruise us and make us feel lesser. And, yes, in the context of life where survival is our main goal – having water, food and shelter – I am doing pretty well. I’ve got nothing to complain about. But by that measure, none of us should have anything to be upset about unless we are starving or dying. There will always be someone worse off than us. However, to be human is to live with all that life throws at us and to find ways to process our brief time on this planet.
The problem is, many of us are not comfortable with what we deem to be uncomfortable emotions. We’re fine with joy and silliness and peace. We’re not so comfortable with grief and pain and loss. So we tell others, and we tell ourselves, that things could be worse. To look on the bright side. That everything happens for a reason. That things will get better. To think happy thoughts. That everything will work out in the end. Maybe they will, or maybe they won’t, but that’s not the point.
The point is, rather than trying to constantly find the positives – a phenomenon we now know as ‘toxic positivity’ – we really need to start being more comfortable with discomfort. Particularly now, when families are separated, lives have been upturned and futures are uncertain. For those who have lost their loved ones, their livelihoods, and worst of all, their hope, saying “it could be worse” is the antithesis of compassion.
It can be hard to know what to say and to let someone sit in their emotions. In our discomfort, we try to fix and help and reassure. Those are wonderful human traits but often, most often, we humans just want to be heard and understood.
So, the next time we feel tempted to brush over someone’s emotional truth, and even our own, perhaps we can respond in a different way. Instead of saying, “Things could be worse,” how about, “That sounds hard”? And instead of “Be positive”, why not give “Tell me more” a go? And from there, it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is listen.
You can watch Kumi on Insight, Tuesdays at 8.30pm on SBS.