At every stage of life, we encounter a new cast of characters – those who are here to stay and those who are here only temporarily. I’d like to think that there is something to be learned from everyone who walks into my life, no matter how transient their presence is. Whether or not they they like me. Whether or not we feel any connection. Whether or not we share similar values.
For at least the first 35 years of my life, I had an unrelenting faith that all human beings are intrinsically kind. It’s a kindness untainted by any ulterior motive. It’s a kindness defined by purity of heart. Maybe it’s like my name – Karen, which means purity, a fact unbeknownst to me until a friend announced he had named his sister after me – Karen – for the name’s purity. At least the majority of people I’ve had the privilege of meeting in my short life have not shaken my faith and reinforce the view that warmth and kindness are reciprocated. However, my blind faith in humanity can also be a source of downfall. I trust people too much without knowing that my kindness, generosity and patience can only go one way. Whereas I see the best in everyone, others tried to steer me in an opposite direction.
In 2018, there were people who upended my view of humanity. I was left hurt, angry and at a loss for words. They made me question my reality and my existence. I didn’t understand why I was willing go out of my way to help others when they had no desire to see my success. I was too blind to acknowledge the level of narcissism around me and simply dismissed it as a character flaw. I was thrown under the bus but I was too blind to see it that way, and I was constantly making excuses for people and blamed myself for thinking too much. I never spoke up for myself when I knew I was being disrespected. How could I have been so forgiving when I was humiliated?
Looking back now, maybe this year was a turning point. I’ve learned to be more discriminate in choosing whom to deal with. At a job or in my personal life. Not everyone is as bighearted as I think they are. I should have taken my mother’s advice not to give away trust so easily and to never reveal vulnerabilities to somebody your every bodily instinct is giving you red flags about. It only took me 30+ years to understand how people really work. Maybe it’s not that I am too dense. Maybe I just refused to accept the fact that people are complicated creatures molded by their unique upbringing and values that are incompatible with my own. It’s the purity of heart I suppose; because I have a rosy picture, I expect everyone to see each other through the same lens. How can they not see me as a pure-hearted soul? I have been lucky enough to meet friends and colleagues who truly respect me as a person and a professional. In the past year, however, I have not been as lucky. For that reason, I began to have serious doubts about my reality.
I have always been told that my generosity and kindness have no bounds. I have nothing but respect and kindness for everyone I meet. These interactions are genuine as I never ask for anything in return. But the kindest people also fall the hardest when they find out that everything they believe about humanity is an illusion. When this illusion is finally shattered like a piece of glass, that person’s world is flipped upside down just like mine was in 2018. But as disappointing as this all sounds, I don’t think we should give up yet. The year has also introduced me to new people who reflect the better angels of our nature. Biggest lesson in 2018? Embrace people for all their flaws, but do so without giving away all of yourself. It is just as important to protect yourself first as it is to help others. The most important asset is your self-respect because it protects you from falling prey to the vagaries of others’ behavior. We can never predict what the next person who walks into your life will bring (it could be happiness or sorrow), but as long as we have confidence and self-respect, we can protect ourselves from anyone. As my mother always says in Chinese, while we should never hurt anyone, we should always be prepared to protect ourselves. The 26-year gap between me and my mom is an ocean of wisdom!
If my life in 2018 were made into a movie, the entire cast of characters deserves credit for making me grow even stronger as a human being, whether they brought me happiness or sorrow. I am saying goodbye to 2018 with clean heart, hoping never to repeat the same mistakes. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow stronger even if it took many restless nights and tears to come to terms with a very different reality from the one I had established for myself.
Happy New Year to you all!