Without discipline, knowledge of another’s backstory can lead to prejudices, or unwarranted judgments. In selfishness–or self-preservation–we can use another’s backstory to justify our own actions. For example, if you happen to feel repelled by a neighbor, therefore not wanting to reach out, and you catch a little bit of their story (assuming it’s not copacetic with you) it may be just enough to keep them at arm’s length.
However, learning another’s backstory (or exploring your own) can encourage compassion and grace. Let me share a simple example…
When I was teaching third grade I had a student, whom we’ll call “Timmy”, and he taught me the significance of backstory. I noticed his extreme exhaustion. Daily. After lunch, like clockwork, his head would slowly lower until it came to rest on his desk.
One day I decided to explore the “why” of his exhaustion. His story broke my heart. Part of me wished I hadn’t asked…but the larger part of me knew I had to handle the information with compassion. His mother had abandoned the family. His father worked the graveyard shift and at 9 years old he was responsible for himself and his younger brother each evening. His dad was doing the best he could–but a lot of responsibility deferred to “Timmy”. No wonder his homework wasn’t completed. No wonder he was tired.
I had two options with his story. I could mock him, or get angry at his napping habit and incomplete homework, or I could choose to have compassion and show grace to the tired little boy caught in a story he didn’t create or write.
Every time I witnessed the slow drop of his head, his backstory moved my heart to compassion. The other students eventually stopped reporting the “crime.” They learned that I would ask them to leave “Timmy” alone. Rest is critical to learning. I knew my student wasn’t learning anything with those heavy eyelids. Oh–but the power of a nap!
I wish I knew the rest of his story, but I don’t. He moved schools and I moved on, but I will always carry his story with me. He taught me a valuable lesson that year. His backstory changed me…moved me to exercise compassion and sweet grace.
Be brave, friend. Share your story. It matters. Maybe someone needs to learn the art of compassion and you can unlock that gift for them.
To the recipients: handle backstories with care! Show grace.