Something I’ve been thinking about lately is toughness.
Being tough, being strong, being resilient, being scrappy, being brave, being stubborn, being unfazed and unrattled and unshakable and relentless.
All of these these things are synonyms in places, overlapping like a weird venn diagram of words and emotions and feelings. These are all good things to be and to have, and work as assets no matter who you are or what you do. Everyone is faced with criticism and critique, and everyone has to rise again from setbacks. That’s how life works.
It ebbs and flows.
But of all these tools in the spectrum of human emotion that help get you from valleys to peaks and back again, I don’t want to have a thick skin.
I don’t want things to bounce off of me.
I want to feel.
Even if the feeling sucks. But that feeling? That feeling is a reminder that I’m human.
In some ways, thinking you’re not human — that you’re superhuman, and maybe even invincible — is helpful. It’s the adrenaline that pushes you through something scary and challenging, and makes you think you’re stronger than you are. Fire isn’t as scary if you don’t feel the flame. And whether you work or even just spend part of your life in a space that constantly requires you to be on your A+ game 24/7, a space that welcomes the critisim or opinion or viewpoints of others (whether good or bad) , you learn pretty quickly to let things bounce off you.
I work in a very digital world, a world of posts and Tweets and Insta-Snap-memories. I see and deal with a very different monster, one that I equal parts love and hate. We’re told to know better than to read the comments. People send nasty messages to complete strangers, either forgetting or ignoring the fact that there is another person and not just an anonymous computer screen on the other side of those words.
Outside of the realm of social media, we have the actual media that is constantly hitting us with news of tragedy, of heartbreak and loss and hatred and ignorance on a regular basis. The truth is, life is hard, often very messy at times. It’s not black and white, there is no staying in the lines. It would, in theory, be so much easier if you felt and reacted less.
I don’t necessarily think so.
Often, telling someone else to grow a thicker skin is to excuse the actions of everyone around them. “People are awful, don’t let them get to you.” But of course awfulness is going to get to a person. Of course it will bug someone. That’s human nature. You can’t tell a person to not feel, just because it keeps the status quo intact.
And okay, sometimes people can be hypersensitive about some things, but they have the right to feel any which way they choose. You can’t tell them that a feeling is wrong. (You can tell them that the concepts on which they’re basing their feelings are misguided, but a feeling is different from its dogma, and feelings in and of themselves are not right or wrong. They are just feelings.) And excusing the actions of other people — that oh, people are just overwhelmingly shitty, grow a thicker skin, move on — is to excuse that shittiness and let it keep happening.
Sure, you can only control your own actions and not the actions of other people, but your actions can also include taking other people to task when their actions are bad. You don’t have to ignore, and you don’t have to roll over, and you don’t have to simply accept things as they are. You don’t have to grow a thicker skin.
You can and should be resilient. You should stand your ground as much as you can, and especially when it’s for things that are right. But don’t grow a thicker skin. Don’t teach yourself how to not feel.
Let things affect you. Let things get under your skin and crawl up your veins and sit uncomfortably with you until you do something about them. Call people out when they say mean things to you. Stand up for yourself, and for anyone else you see being bullied or put down.
We may mostly be grown ups, but we’re still not so far from the playground. And sometimes on the playground, you’d skin your knee and it would sting and you’d get gravel and grit in your scrape, and it would hurt.
But you would remember that sting and you would learn.
Sometimes it was your own damn fault. But sometimes it wasn’t. Just because somebody else pushed you over didn’t make that sting hurt any less. And sometimes, those scrapes left scars. Sometimes, those moments of vulnerability lead to lessons and breakthroughs. Those moments of weakness often tell us who we really are.
Be strong and confident and believe in yourself, and know when people say things, sometimes they mistakenly say the wrong things, or they do so just to get to you. By all means, be stubborn and be smart about the fact that the internet can be shitty, and people on the internet say shitty things, and it’s often smart to ignore these said shitty things.
But having that wisdom is different than having a thick skin.
Don’t confuse the two, whatever you do.
Don’t grow a thick skin, or at least keep parts of it vulnerable.
Feel. Be human. Be imperfect. Be alive.