When I was in 10th grade, my best friend’s father passed away of a brain tumor. It wasn’t pretty, either. This super strong, funny and confident man, always healthy, basically was reduced to a shell of himself weeks after his diagnosis. It was one of the most brutally rapid declines of a human being I can still to this day ever imagine witnessing.
This man had been fairly important in my life, as I had spent countless hours at his house, various pro sporting events over the previous five years, and he had been the coach of several of my past baseball teams.
Now, in high school, it was awkward. Nobody knew how to handle his death, and the worst part was probably for my friend, who was 14 years old, and like me, other 14 year old’s had no idea how to interact with him after the tragic, rapid death of his father.
And while the obvious path of this story would be to talk about how this changed the course of my friend’s life, I’m going to take it in a different direction.
The day or two before the funeral, I remember our mutual 14-year old friend, let’s call him “Gerg,” coming up to me at school and saying something to the affect of “Well, Paul, this is WAY WORSE than your mom’s death, because she died when you were four, and (our friend’s dad) died when he was 14, so he actually KNEW his father. You didn’t even really know your mother, so it wasn’t really that big of a loss for you.”
Okay, there’s a lot to unpack there, but before we get to the real punchline of my article here, let’s try.
Number 1: Kids say pretty mean things without realizing it, and while I wanted to punch him in the face, I’ll never forget how time slowed down for me and I reacted very differently than how I initially wanted to.
Number 2: As time slowed down, I realized he didn’t mean to be cruel to me or hurt my feelings at all, he just didn’t know what to say. Taking that a step further, he really didn’t know how to articulate to me that he knew that my childhood was painful due to the loss of my mother when I was four, and that he now knew that this loss of my friend’s dad was painful to me, but also to our friend. So in essence, our mutual friend Gerg was kind of screwed. He had two friends going through some pain, and he didn’t know what to say.
Number 3: If you’re reading this and thinking something along the lines of “hey Gerg, your one friend got 10 extra years with his parent that the other friend didn’t get, how could you think something so stupid and foolish, let alone verbalize it to either of the friends?” then you’re thinking the exact same thing I was thinking right after I decided I wasn’t going to punch him in the mouth.
Instead of really reacting at all, I just took away a HUGE lesson from Gerg’s mistake.
YOU CAN’T COMPARE PAIN.
YOU CAN’T COMPARE TRAGEDIES.
LET’S TRY NOT TO JUDGE EACH OTHERS EXPERIENCES.
We all have our crap. We all deserve to be able to work through our crap. What’s a big deal to you may not be a big deal to someone else.
The biggest challenge our society will be faced with from a human perspective – and as a direct result – from a business perspective – coming out of this pandemic, is judgement and comparison.
Judgement and comparison will be poison, more so than ever. And we will all be tested post-pandemic. We will all want to compare each other’s pain like Gerg did in the hallway with me that day in high school. We’ll want to feel more sorry for some than others. But that’s not the energy the world needs.
When we see someone who is running a business that appears to have flourished in spite of the pain that most felt losing their jobs or laying off their entire workforce in March/April 2020, we can’t judge them. We can’t compare. Why? Because we don’t really know.
They may have lost someone they loved unexpectedly to COVID-19. They may be having health issues themselves. They may have received a PPP loan and now be nervous about having to pay some or all of it back due to the stipulations involved. Or, they may not have learned lessons that will help them in the future.
The details don’t matter as much as the overall punchline: Now, more so than ever, we really don’t know what’s going on with each other, unless we communicate, without judgement.
As business owners and marketers, let’s also try to extend this lack of judgement to ourselves.
The world has been shaken. We’ve lived through images and scenes that we only thought we’d ever see in movies. If for no other reason than the fact that tens of thousands of our own just perished in a horrible way, let’s not worry about comparing our pain in business. Let’s give ourselves a break, hit a reset button, and let’s get back to work, free of judgement. Free of comparison, ready to help each other out.
The biggest way I can think of right now to help each other out that I know will never go away, is to not assume we really know what’s going on with someone or with businesses, and to not rush people or businesses to be in a spot that they’re not ready to be in yet, or ever, for that matter.
Just like those people who lose a parent at a young age and may never be the same again, we can’t wish or force the world or businesses to go back to the way they were. We can only try to support them along the way to be the best version of themselves they can be.