“You a Godless woman! Ain’t you tired yet, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?” – Aibilene, “The Help”*
I finally did it. I bit the bullet and watched “The Help” this weekend. I realize I am far behind the rest of the world on this, but knowing the subject matter was segregation I was resistant to seeing it unfold. Any act of injustice or poor treatment of others is hard for me to watch. It unnerves me that it isn’t harder for others. But, I guess that is the desensitized world we live in?
I should really be thankful for the progress achieved, and the growing number of people who do seek justice, equality, and a more level playing field for all, especially in the aftermath of Obama’s re-election just yesterday. Still, watching “The Help” left me with lingering questions about our nature as humans. As is often the case, I feel I know the answers, yet I still don’t understand.
Why Do We Hurt Others?
My gut reaction to this question is FEAR. Fear seems to be the driving force behind many of the negative, unkind things we do. We fear others will get more than us, so we do whatever we can to put them down. When I think about anger, jealousy, and competition – they are all based on a fear of loss. We say things like “those people,” and proceed to classify others into groups because if we can at least build a “team” around our own interests then we can gain a sense of security (albeit false). But, that is definitely not the explanation for all hateful behavior.
Some people have such a need for power that the impetus for their greed and maliciousness is solely one of control or ego. These people don’t even care if they are liked. I can’t imagine what that feels like. To do or say whatever will get your needs met without thinking about the consequences. That is such a foreign concept to me.
Are politicians who only care about the needs of 1% of the population filled with fear? Or, is it something else entirely? Honestly, I have no idea what the answer is, but I suspect that there are many dimensions to one’s propensity for hurting others based on upbringing, sense of entitlement, spiritual beliefs, capacity for self-awareness, and on and on.
One Antidote Applies
With so many dimensions driving people to be hurtful, intolerant, and flat-out miserable, it is hard to imagine that just one thing can be the remedy. But, I do believe that is true. Love in all its amazing forms – compassion, gratitude, understanding, acceptance – can change the direction of even the blackest heart.
I was struck by the way in which Aibilene, one of the lead characters in “The Help,” cried out to Missy Hilly, the controlling, malicious debutante who made everyone’s lives miserable, “Ain’t you tired yet, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?” She could have said a litany of hurtful things, but the honesty and even compassion of her sincere question cut to the root of the issue.
Those who claw their way to the top must be exhausted. It takes so much effort to be cruel and step on the backs of others to get what one wants. It is so counter to the nature we are born with. It must take years of negativity (fear, anger, greed) before you reach the likes of someone like Miss Hilly.
Aibilene could see that, and rather than go on and on with attacks on Hilly’s character, she cut right to the heart of the matter, going to a place I find myself frequently, to one of sincere questioning. It reminded me of a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that I uncovered recently when challenged and confused by someone’s unkind treatment:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” This reminds me too of the depths of meaning in the title, “The Help.”
When You Know Better
A classic Oprah motto, one which I believe she learned from Maya Angelou, is “when you know better you do better.” People do what they know. They follow patterns of childhood unless they consciously seek a different path.
The depth of love exuded by Aibilene towards the child of a woman who treated her with utter disdain was such a vivid display of knowing better and doing better. Drawing from her faith and an inner sense of the power of love, she did everything in her power to arm Mae (“Baby Girl”) with protection from the hateful, vain, pretentious world she had been born into. Every time the two recited:
“You is Kind;”
“You is Smart;”
“You is Important;”
I understood a little more, that even though there are many people who seem focused on hurting others, there are simple truths I must cling to about the core nature of humans. We are born good, kind, smart, and we all matter.
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