I recently attended a friend’s wedding in Seattle. Though I’ve been to Seattle before, it had been at least ten years since I was last there, so I took some time to be a typical tourist and enjoy the city. While browsing a museum gift shop, I noticed some small plants on a shelf—miniature plants, about half the size of my palm. A small sign was perched in front of them, reading, “We’re alive, please be gentle.” My initial thought was that it was a smart sign: I had assumed the plants were fake—which was apparently a common misconception. But as I continued to browse the store, the sign stuck in my mind.
“We’re alive, please be gentle.”
To apply this sign to people might seem like a pretty simple concept, but I wonder how often we end up forgetting it. It only takes about five minutes of watching the news to realize we do not live in a gentle world. Wars and violent conflict make headlines across the globe. People around the world are oppressed for any number of reasons—their gender identity, their race, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their economic status. We see national and global corporations earning a profit off marginalized people seeking better options. Greed and corruption permeate the social and political spectrums, leaving many people struggling to get by. I wish I could somehow remind people all across the world: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”
To think so large-scale might be unrealistic, so I want to bring this message a little closer to home. A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration found that one in five Americans are living with some type of mental health condition. This means the odds are good that you know someone affected by mental illness, or maybe you, yourself, have experience living with mental illness. Mental health conversations are often met with stigma rather than compassion, judgment rather than gentleness. So how do we push back against that reality in our own relationships?
When it comes to being gentle with others, I think it’s most important to never underestimate the power of listening. If someone is struggling and opens up to you, they probably aren’t looking for you to have all the answers. People want to be heard, and they want to know that their voice, their story, has value. Affirm the worries and fears, the hopes and dreams of the people around you. I find it to be quite humbling and a great honor when someone opens up to me and shares their life with me. It takes so much courage for most of us to share those pieces of ourselves, and we should be proud of every single person who does it. It’s also important to encourage and support each other and not get frustrated about bumps along the way. Remember: Love, support, and kindness are not things you only give to others when everything is going well for them.
But what if we focus the lens even closer? How often do we take the time to think about how to be gentle with ourselves? If you are anything like me, this is the toughest one. I get mad at myself for setbacks, frustrated and impatient with my own limitations, and ashamed of myself for my struggles. I say hateful, hurtful things to and about myself that I would never say to or about anyone else. I am my own toughest critic and worst cheerleader. I can turn a small misstep into a self-hate spiral in record time.
And then I remember: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”
Be gentle with yourself. Be patient with yourself as you live and learn and grow. You’re going to make mistakes—we all do. But forgive yourself for them. Try not to get frustrated with the pace of whatever journey you’re on. Meet yourself where you are. Don’t give up on yourself. Treat yourself when you need a pick-me-up, and give yourself permission to rest when you need a break. Congratulate yourself on progress, big or small, and don’t tear yourself apart for stalls or setbacks. Speak words of kindness to yourself—if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. Encourage yourself, affirm yourself. And if you need help with any of it, ask! Remind yourself that you deserve to be happy and healthy. Remind yourself that your story matters, that you matter, and that you are irreplaceable. Love yourself, because you are important and worthy of love.
And on the days when it feels just a little too dark, remember: “We’re alive, please be gentle.”