A new phrase came into our language recently, did you notice? Toxic people. The internet is full of titles like “7 Types of Toxic People and How To Spot Them” and “Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal With Them”.
Toxic means poisonous. Something that comes in and and takes away the integrity of other things. Something that turns all pristine beauty into opaque nauseating gas.
It started out with labeling situations, thoughts and emotions as toxic. Then, the label expanded to people. It makes me cringe every time. I don’t see how people can be toxic. I see people as pristine beauty. All the time. Even when they are difficult.
Because, really, who isn’t difficult?
Do you know a single person who hasn’t got a taste from the heart aches of life? Even if you do know someone like that (maybe they are young?), don’t you have the sense that they too will taste heartache one day? They too will lose someone they love, they too will lose health or money, they too will have to choose between two very important values, sacrificing one big thing to gain another?
The heart aches of being human - this is our common ground. And the difficulties of being human, the difficulties we inflict upon ourselves and others, they come from the heart aches. They come from having suffered in insufferable ways, from not naming the pain, from not knowing what to do about it, not being able to contain it.
To say some people are pristine beauty while others are nauseating gas is, first of all, wrong. When you take the long term view on life, we can’t say that some suffer less and some suffer more. We all suffer similar amounts. We all have moments of not being able to contain pain, when the pain is too new, too raw, too unknown.
Then, to label people as toxic is alienating. It turns those suffering people into aliens, undefined objects, foreign items. It takes life out of them, reduces them to gas. It cuts them off from the source they need the most: connection, belonging, acceptance, compassion, love.
I have the sense that those who talk on and on about toxic people - they are the ones engaging with harmful behavior.
It might not always be possible to see people as pristine beauty. If someone abuses me, I might not have the will or the heart to see their beauty. But there would still be a deeper knowledge inside of me that knows they too are human. They too came from a broken life, a broken marriage, a broken heart, a broken something. They too are holding things they don’t know how to hold.
It might not always be possible to forgive people. If someone abuses me, I might not be able to say “I forgive you.” But there would still be a deeper source in the universe that might be able to forgive him. Like his mother, maybe? Surely his mother could forgive him? I can lend his forgiveness to a container greater than me. I can ask that he is forgiven one day, by someone, by something, other than me.
Come, let’s change this language. Let’s stop alienating people who most need our help. Let’s lend them out to greater sources if we can’t hold them. But let’s see their pain and suffering as a bursting volcano, equally dangerous maybe, but so much more about potent and expansive, and you have to agree, so much more beautiful.