I recently had a conversation with a close friend that made me question what my life would look like if was a book. The conversation was amidst turmoil: our friendship was deteriorating and we both avoided talking about what was going wrong. Perhaps this was because neither of us wanted to admit our shortcomings, neither of us wanted to admit we were at fault. I explained how I was feeling: imbalanced. I felt like I was giving advice, lending my ears at any time, and giving constant positivity to a friend who gave me none in return. He explained what was inhibiting him: too many commitments. He explained that he had been extraordinarily overwhelmed and, therefore, was feeling extraordinarily stressed. Between school, charity work, and family life -- he was just too busy.
He said that if his life was a book, it would be prioritized by page -- meaning that what is most important and takes the most time goes on the first page, the second most important, on the second page, and so on.
“Right now, you are on the third page.” His words felt like bullets.
I wanted to ask, “Why must your book have pages?” I wanted to tell him that friendship should never go on the third page. Instead, I said nothing. I could not understand why our friendship was not prioritized. Selfishly, I was offended; I felt unworthy. I was disappointed in myself: I gave so much to someone who did not reciprocate my friendship and predisposed myself to getting hurt. I was also disappointed in him: after seven years of friendship, I expected more. Why can’t he be busy while still being a good friend? Why can’t he fit everything on the first page of his book? I do.
That was just the problem: I compared his book to mine. I judged his struggle because I thought our struggles were the same.
What I didn’t realize at the time, I realize now. No two struggles are the same. It does not matter whose struggle is worse because struggle is just struggle. Any struggle is hard. Every struggle is hard.
Looking back, instead of responding with judgment, I should have responded with sensitivity. He was juggling more than just too many commitments. I should have said, “I understand. I am here for you; I am here to listen.”
The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” So too with the pages of someone’s book; so too with the struggle on each page. Don’t judge someone’s book by it’s cover, by the sequence of the pages, or by the struggle on each page.
The response to struggle cannot be judgment. The response to struggle needs to be sensitivity.