"Sunset" © Paul Rysz, 2013. CC BY 2.0.
Sunset” © Paul Rysz, 2013. CC BY 2.0.
As teenagers we knit ourselves tight. A collection of creatures people on the outside considered crass. Ruthless. At the time, that’s what made it validating. If they hate everyone, but they like me, I must have something special. If they are malevolent, but cordial to me, I must be a stellar human being.

It took me years to realize people are the same to everybody. The old first date adage of, “Pay attention to how he treats the waiter, not how he treats you,” is true. It’s rare that you are seeing the real person and everyone else is seeing a front. You are not the exception to the rule. No matter what part of the snake you’re holding, the teeth find a way to come back and bite you.

I stopped saying, “I don’t care what he did to that guy, he’s nice to me.” Finally settled into the idea that “that guy” could be me. Would be. Already is, really. The things people do to other people, they do to everybody. You cannot disregard people’s feelings in one direction, it radiates out. It hurts everybody.

We started burning bridges. Phone lines got quiet and emails stopped. No more coffee and cigarettes. We become the people we spend most of our time around. And those people are who they spend most of their time being, not the person they only let you see. We must choose carefully.

Weed out the harmful ones, the careless ones, the ones you’re making excuses for. Cut out the ones whose actions would be unacceptable if they directed them at you. Remember that you are a combination of all the things you do and they are, too. We do not get to choose which of our repeated actions work into the average. They all do.

That’s where I get stuck. A lump in the throat and fists all balled up. If the things we do to one person, we do to everybody, then I owe you all an apology. I would never say such awful things about you as I do about me.

Pay attention to that. Listen. I do not want to be the type of person who talks so harsh to anybody. And that starts with how I talk to me.

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