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The gift of giving room to grow: Why we can all be kinder to others and ourselves

Deputy editor Shiraz Vapiwala's leader article on the necessity of compassion for others amidst disagreements.

Speaking entirely for myself, I have never thought it was a good idea for people to be “careful” in how they speak; the word “careful” implies an extent of inauthenticity and a – now necessary – caution which I never used to feel when speaking to people. People – now that’s a concept worth mentioning anew. The way I see it, people used to be no more than that primarily, especially at first glance – people. We have all always had individual identities, sexualities, politics, and races et cetera; however it seems as if now, more intensely than ever, we are being asked to be representatives of the communities which share our identities, at times putting them above our common ground of all being people. As variously different people, we all, in my opinion, share key characteristics which can help us to understand one another. We are, for the most part,  all well intentioned, albeit flawed creatures, influenced by our backgrounds as much as our surroundings, imbibing media and rhetoric from our peers constantly, regardless of whether or not we seek it, which tells us of different ways to view the world and each other. We are continually being offered new perspectives, justifications, arguments, and truths, all of which we are expected to weigh up justly and measuredly and reach the same conclusions as our respected peers. There is no way to predict how tides will change and how the way we are expected to converse will. Despite this, kindness, honesty, and respect are timeless, and they should be the standards we expect, regardless of whether we are offended by ignorance. This creates difficulty, because it requires nuance to tell if someone means to be offensive, or if they, like all of us, are learning and adapting our views on the world, sometimes getting it (as we perceive) wrong.

Learning can only occur authentically and effectively when people are given a chance to fail. Without rooting around in the darkness, occasionally bumping our heads, and allowing others to do the same, we risk creating a synthetic culture in which nobody says what they mean, and nobody means what they say; they say it out of conformity, lest they be challenged, without understanding how they got there, or why they ought to say one thing over another. Without giving our friends the freedom to express themselves in ways we may not agree with or find prejudicial, we put ourselves and our pals into a verbal minefield, in which any step can be fatal. Fatal to our social reputations, our friendships, or our future prospects. Sometimes this means our conversations freeze into superficiality out of fear, and never reach higher ground.

So if I had a wish for our future interactions with one another, a gift I could give myself and others, it would be to act and speak freely with good intentions, unafraid of offending (as long as this is without malice) and always ready to learn something from those we offend.  And when we recognise such people who we perceive as fumbling or falling short of what we hope their attitudes might be, to have mercy in challenging them – we ourselves may need it from others someday.

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