Earlier this week, someone told me she worried that she was a horrible person. Some minor thing had gone wrong. So she thought she might be horrible.
Don’t worry, I told her. Everyone is terrible.
I’m pretty sure that’s not the answer I was supposed to give, but…well, I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t think she was prepared for my unusual brand of support.
But, seriously, though – while everything, of course, is a matter of definition it’s fairly simple to argue that everyone is terrible, or at the very least, that the vast majority of people are terrible and that, should any non-terrible people exist, there numbers are so small as to be negligible.
What, you may ask, is a terrible person?
Well, by other definitions a terrible person is just a person. A terrible person has imperfections. A terrible person makes mistakes, A terrible person makes choices they know they shouldn’t make and a terrible person has a litany of regrets.
But, really, everyone does that.Everyone being terrible would certainly explain why these self-complaints are so common. I regularly call myself a terrible person. And I know I’m not alone in this challenge. On a daily basis, I hear several people use variations of the expression, sometimes electing to modify a different aspect of their identity.Apparently, everyone I know is a terrible mother.Some of them might even be the world’s worst mother, but they’ll clearly need to fight for the honor as so many of them seem ready to claim it.The problem, you see, is that for one moment these women did any less than dote on their child with the sickening love only found in a doped-up ’50s housewife. Perhaps they were worn down from the fact they hadn’t slept in years or showered for days. Perhaps it was just a helping of day-old mac and cheese not siting well. One may never know. But they are clearly terrible mothers. Indeed.I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.The so-called proper response to the concern of being horrible is to reassure someone that they are, in fact, not horrible. That they are being too hard on themselves.And yet this answer seems unsatisfying.Just because it’s normal or natural to do something, doesn’t mean that it’s an okay thing to do. How much historic racism and sexism have sought refuge behind these terms?Even assuming something less inflammatory – is it okay to lie just because that’s a reasonable impulsive reaction?Maybe or maybe not, but it seems like a healthy question to debate.And that’s where the challenge in this self-loathing terrible comes from. Everyone makes mistakes, but writing your mistakes off as something that’s okay because everyone’s doing it…doesn’t really work.So, yes, I suppose, you are a terrible person.But that’s okay because we are all terrible people. Striving every day to be just a little less terrible than the day before. Some days we’re a lot more terrible, and other days we find our better selves.But we’re all pretty much terrible.So, next time you call yourself terrible or horrible or some other presumably self-deprecating term, ask yourself this – what do you wish you could have done instead? What strategies and tactics could you employ to change the way things played out? Would you, really, like to do anything differently next time?And, of course, remember, you will always be a terrible person. Try your best to be better, but you will continue to fail. You will always be imperfect.You will never be a doped-up, TV sitcom, ’50s housewife. And that’s okay, because you probably don’t really want to be that person anyway. I know I don’t.Just be your terrible self. Your terrible, wonderful, broken, strong, challenged and struggling self.And then try again tomorrow.