A Letter to the Man Who Assaulted Me

Dear Sir in the Stocking Cap:

 

You don’t know my name, but you obviously hated who I am--an American.

 

I sometimes think of you and feel bad that you are awaiting trial in prison because of what you did to me. Perhaps we will see each other again. The police say they will fly me back to Cambridge to testify if you plead not guilty. If that happens, and our eyes meet once again, I wanted to tell you something first.

 

I think in this difficult thing called life, you were doing your very best. Unfortunately, your best was hurtful to me.

 

I can imagine you as an infant:  bright-eyed and innocent. Who first repeatedly kicked you the way that you forcefully kicked me?

 

You pushed and cornered me against Victoria bridge’s wall and your once clear blue eyes were ravished with hatred.  I wonder how many times you were forced to cower in a similar corner as someone domineered you with fear.

 

I can’t even recall all the horrible names and cuss words you hurled at me. My mind could not keep up with the shock of having a gentleman treat a woman in that manner. I am sure when you were young, you lived repeatedly through a similar shock--until their language became your language; until their hatred became your hatred.

 

I was thankful my legs could outrun you when you chased me across Jesus Green Park. Perhaps you were tired. You’ve been running from something painful for far too long.

 

I am not traumatized by our meeting. I don’t live in more fear since I met you. I chose to press charges because I can’t let you treat women like that. I cannot let you hear another young female student’s American accent and terrorize her in a new city far away from family and home.

 

I am sorry for everything you have experienced in your life that made you hate me so much.  I know you’ve tried your best with the life you were given.  I hope, in prison, you can find the rest, forgiveness and counseling you need. You are meant for more.

Sincerely,

Olivia Puccini

******************************

Yes. I can feel your reaction through the illuminated screen and miles of fiberoptic cables that separate us.

 

“You have got to be kidding, Olivia. Do you really believe he was doing his very best? You are just being way too kind and far too naïve.”

 

I realize your concerns could be true, but I choose to live with a different and unexpected worldview. Why? When I live with the inner perspective that everyone is trying their very best, I am finally free—free to be myself and free to encourage greatness in others.

 

I have recently finished reading a life-changing book for me: Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Her writings have challenged me so much that I gift this book to anyone I meet that I feel may remotely benefit from its content.

 

In this book, Brene wrestles with this same question. Are people, in general, always doing their very best? Her answer was a firm and adamant NO until she started to interview and perform formal research around this topic.  When she asked her study participants the same question, this is what she discovered:

[Of those who answered “no”] 80 percent of these respondents used themselves as an example: “I know I’m not doing my best, so why should I assume others are?” or “I slack off all of the time,” or “I don’t give it 110 percent when I should.” They judged their efforts in the same exacting manner that they judged the efforts of others. It was clearly important for the people answering “no” to acknowledge this parity. I also began to see a pattern that worried me. The past research participants who answered “no” were also people who struggled with perfectionism. They were quick to point out how they’re not always doing the best they could and offered examples of situations when they weren’t their perfect selves. They were as hard on others as they were on themselves. Every participant who answered “yes” was in the group of people who I had identified as [healthy and] wholehearted— people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They, too, offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing out how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying. Professionally, I saw what was emerging.

 

For me, in life, the same pattern has emerged. I finally took time to slow down and pay attention to my inner frustration and thoughts towards others. Those times in life when I am inwardly grumbling at the unbelievable rudeness, laziness, or inner quality of a person, if I quiet myself, get curious and dig deep, I find that I am also inwardly grumbling about the quality of MYSELF. 

 

Often I unnoticeably inwardly whisper that I am not good enough. I am not kind enough. I am not professional enough. I am not a good parent AND I failed to accomplish my dreams or reach my potential. The moment that cassette tape starts playing on repeat in my head, it transfers to everyone who surrounds me. She is not kind or professional enough. He is not a good parent. They are wasting every opportunity to be excellent! The result:  I am miserable. Others feel my inner conversation, and no life-giving inspiration remains—in my life or theirs. I remain silent in my condemnation of myself and the universe.

 

Brene explains this well.

This rumble taught me why self-righteousness is dangerous. Most of us buy into the myth that it’s a long fall from “I’m better than you” to “I’m not good enough”— but the truth is that these are two sides of the same coin. Both are attacks on our worthiness. We don’t compare when we’re feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.

 

YES, sir in the stocking cap with the hateful clear blue eyes. I think you were trying your best. When I look back at all the mistakes I have made; all the times I performed below the expectations I had for myself, I was trying my very best too. It was certainly an imperfect best, but amidst tiredness and the circumstances of life, it was all I had to give.

 

We live with the myth that if we’re not the grizzly mean coach that inwardly beats ourselves up, we will never reach our full potential. I argue the opposite. Guilt, rejection and inner abusive self-talk never create an a healthy internal soil for our dreams and potential to take root and grow in.  My dreams and potential only flourish into a solid, unmovable tree in my life when I live in acceptance of EVERYTHING I am.  We fear this will create laziness and apathy in our lives, work environment and family. In reality, the unexpected and completely opposite happens.

Brene describes the difference below.

This doesn’t mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change. It means that we stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. It means that we stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are. It means that sometimes when we’re beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside, “Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now.”

 

Once we can also view those surrounding us with the same belief and grace, they too finally feel accepted. We help plow healthy soil in their inner lives. As we speak words of encouragement and truth, we get to stand back in amazement as their dreams take root and grow.

 

My recent attempt to live with this worldview was challenged while I visited Cambridge University last month. The sir in the stocking cap attacked me while walking across a beautiful bridge in Cambridge. Could I really believe that he was doing his very best?

 

I also started to write this blog while sitting in the music room of Cambridge University’s library. The heads of famous composers stared arrogantly down at me as I attempted to live out this truth. I had recently decided to pursue writing and had applied to both Oxford and Cambridge University’s Masters in Creative Writing programs. I was rejected by both. I had dreamed of doing something great with music, but in a business where youth is a necessity, my prime years have passed. A few years ago {even a few months ago}, I would have inwardly punished myself for my failures. If only I would have tried harder, been more confident, studied more, not wasted my youth, I could have achieved my dreams.

Instead, I took a real and truthful look at my past: the inmaturities, the challenges, life's unexpected turns, the depression and doubt. I can honestly, with inner confidence and peace, say that I tried my very best. Although tempted, I did not allow myself to peer over at the 20 year old male students sitting across from me in the library and inwardly say, “Well they must be more talented and smarter than me.  They were accepted. I was rejected.”

 

I don’t allow myself to envy the young singers who have a road full of opportunity ahead of them. Instead, I have finally realized my voice was meant for something else. I will keep working to be the best singer, best writer, the best version of myself that I possibly can be. And finally, after learning to truly embrace my entire self, I think I just may finally learn to fly.

 

Start a new habit! Make it your unbending tradition. Always tell yourself that you’ve tried your very best – even when it’s not perfect. Free those who surround you and boldly proclaim the unthinkable in their time of self-deprecation and doubt: “You are doing your very best. You always have. You always will.”

 

Take a moment--even now. Quiet the doubt, relax into your chair, finally release the heavy baggage you have carried through life for far too long. Breathe in and say to yourself: "I have done my very best. It hasn't been perfect, but it was all I had. And that is completely o.k."

 

Now that you are treading this earth a bit lighter, wanna fly with me? Let’s help others discover their wings.

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