People are as great as you allow them to become.
There’s a Kevin Smith quote someone made an amazing comic out of that always stuck with me. It had the narrow scope of referring exclusively to artists, but I personally believe it applies to every person we encounter:
“Remember: it costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.”
We’ve all dealt with people who were only in it for themselves. Sometimes it comes from using others as tools to serve one’s own ambitions, sometimes it’s bullying that was learned as a source of power in childhood, sometimes it’s insecurity that necessitates an “Us vs. Them” mentality to abate feelings of loneliness. Regardless of what flavor it comes in, it does nothing but cultivate misanthropic sentiments and erode one’s confidence and ability to trust.
There will always be valid reasons to keep specific people at arm’s length, particularly those engaged in such self-serving behaviors, but when we are unmindful of how low this threshold becomes we deny people the opportunity to become amazing. The person who’s a little “off” and socially awkward doesn’t get a chance to hone their social skills because people don’t invite them places. The person who was a jerk occasionally because they lost their job and lover in tandem doesn’t get to build a support network to help them out of their rut. The person recovering from addiction returns to old vices after being met with glaring disapproval for their past. Everyone will, at some point in their life, need help from those around them, and it’s our responsibility to be mindful of this fact. This may be as direct as needing a couch to crash on during a tumultuous living situation, or as indirect as just having people who will – to be frank – put up with their shit so they don’t feel worthless when they’re in a rut.
As the holiday season speeds up, I worry a lot about people in these sorts of situations. I have been there – and likely will be again – and no one deserves to be alone for the holidays, any of them. Suicide rates skyrocket to levels our culture should be ashamed of every year, and something as simple as inviting someone to a holiday dinner can make them feel welcome and wanted enough to feel better about themselves.
I understand the importance of family being somewhat exclusive as it relates to trust, but as you plan your holiday gatherings this year (and beyond) give someone a shot at feeling that warmth that comes from that sense of togetherness. Make them feel acknowledged, and appreciated, and welcome, and watch them grow in ways you’d never expect the following year. It’s a few nights a year that you might be risking a little awkwardness, but it’s the best investment you’ll make all year.