Jorge called for me to come into the kitchen for breakfast. On the table were two large, steaming bowls of “Coco Wheats” cereal. I laughed and said I hadn’t enjoyed it since I was a little boy. Jorge winked and said I should just pour on the soy milk and enjoy the food. I had to admit that I liked it. He said that he was using the product as a psychological tool to help him project his thoughts back in time.
Jorge explained that he’d been suffering through some bouts of anger and resentment during the last month. He knew that his feelings were rooted in the nightmare of his childhood experiences. It had all started after his family moved to the United States. The children in his new sixth grade class treated him sadistically. Jorge’s mother worried about his emotional health. Like all good moms, she made sure to create a safe haven for her son. He told me that one time, when he’d been served a bowl of the chocolate hot cereal, his mother tried to explain the behavior of his cruel classmates. He remembers she said that everybody hurts inside in some way.
All this had come to mind during his drive to Nebraska, last week, when he heard the famous R.E.M. song “Everybody Hurts” on his car radio. At the next town, he stopped at a grocery store and purchased a box of Coco Wheats so he could enjoy a mental journey back to his mamacita’s kitchen table.
I knew that the R.E.M. song had inspired many essays, discussions, and probably even a book or two. I grinned at Jorge when I thought how the song had inspired my friend to buy a box of cereal.
We began sharing our childhood experiences as we lingered over our bowls of Coco Wheats. We had both been targets of harm by the mean-hearted kids of our classes. We both felt that we had been singled out because we were physically smaller and were more shy and quiet than the other kids. If we paid closer attention, we noticed that a very few other kids suffered at the hands of the mean individuals. Jorge and I also both suffered as the targets of our physical education teachers. It had taken us many years until we were able to simply enjoy going to the gym for its own sake.
While Jorge was fortunate to have a wise, understanding mother help him through the times he was bullied, I stumbled and bumbled through adolescence and young adulthood, searching through trial and error, explanations for life’s cruelty and techniques for dealing with it. In 1978, a casual conversation with one of my friends who was also a Tibetan monk, finally cleared up my confusion when he also said, “everybody hurts”. His clarity of voice and simplicity of expression triggered my own “a-ha moment”.
Jorge wondered aloud about what kinds of childhood trauma that people like Vladimir Putin and Rush Limbaugh had suffered. In as much as it’s difficult to feel much compassion for such individuals, we wanted to try to understand them. Somewhere in their pasts was some sort of hurtful incident or people who harmed them.
The world is filled with mean-hearted people who wish bad tidings upon others. I can think of more than a few leaders and authority figures who are racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy, or motivated by other negative drives. My own revulsion of them is tempered by feelings of pity and sadness about their states of mind.
These are people who are harboring pain and deep unhappiness. It’s unclear to me how we can break the chains of social unhappiness when we allow such unhappy people to lead our institutions and nations.
In my opinion, there are probably a few sociopathic individuals who were born the way they are, but I think most of our leaders were hurt deeply and still hurt inside. Their public appeal is to be found within their shared suffering and hurt felt by all of us. Even those who have the best intentions manage to somehow harm other people unintentionally. There are others who go out of their way to harm people.
Part of the answer to address today’s hate-filled world is for us to understand that everybody hurts. How we can minimalize harm is the question of the ages that we must work out as soon as possible.
Jorge and I agreed that the Coco Wheat breakfast may have been lacking in nutritional value, but the conversation had been wholesome and productive. Both of us felt much happier and focused as a result.
The Blue Jay of Happiness knows we can understand abuse and abusers, but we should also not put up with that abuse if we wish to live full, productive, joyful lives.