THE BLOG
01/26/2016 05:24 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Battle Scars

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"Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle." -- Plato

I've always heard this quote -- or some variation of it -- for years. Here's the thing, though: I've never really put much thought into its meaning or relevance. I mean, I understood it; you can't necessarily tell the struggle that someone may be facing in their lives just by looking at them and so you should probably refrain from being a total asshole to the people you encounter on a daily basis. Not a bad life lesson and seems easy enough, but do you follow it? Fine, I'll go first and admit it: I normally don't.

Truth is I often find myself going about my day getting aggravated multiple times: at bad drivers, slow walkers, people with no manners or regard for others, people who are rude, annoying or obnoxious (IN OTHER WORDS, EVERYONE). I'm easily frustrated by strangers and even people I know.

But as I'm getting older and talking more and more to all the people in my life, I'm realizing something. Everyone walking around this earth (especially those who are older) has the same thing in common: We're all going through shit.

Could be a bad day, a bad week, or hell, maybe even a bad year. Stuff going on at home, a strain in a personal relationship, problems at work. Someone could be dealing with a serious illness; whether personally or with someone close to them.

Many years ago, I worked with a girl who I wasn't exactly a fan of. She was high-strung, overly emotional and for lack of a better word: difficult. I really had no patience and any time I had to interact with her I was not happy about it. One day I was talking to another coworker who told me that this girl had been in an abusive relationship for years. Physical, emotional, you name it. I immediately had a different outlook about her and I felt awful. If I hadn't heard this really private tidbit about her life, I would have just continued to be annoyed at her presence and judgmental about how she acted at work.

You see, these are the kinds of things that take a huge toll on people and affect our moods, our personalities and even how we may treat others. And oftentimes we don't even know the people in our lives (and especially those we don't) are struggling in some way. Maybe Plato was onto something with this whole 'kindness' thing, huh?

Another thing: sometimes we look around and covet the lives and things that others seemingly have. The perfect marriage. The perfect house. The perfect body, face, hair. The perfect job. The perfect life.

But is it?

Do you really know what goes on behind closed doors? Do you know the struggles -- the "battles" -- that the people in your life are facing? In some cases, you may. I tend to confide in the closest people to me and they do the same, but I'd bet there are plenty of people out there who are struggling in some way and I have no idea.

The other night I was on a crowded train on the way home after work, and a woman next to me was coughing violently and grossly. With each hacking and sniffling sound I grew angrier and angrier at her. WHY IS THIS WOMAN OUT IN PUBLIC CONTAMINATING US WITH HER GROSS GERMS?! And then I stopped myself for a split second and thought, hey, maybe she can't afford to take a day off of work. Maybe she had to go in even though she felt really, really terrible. And here you are getting angry when you potentially don't know the whole story.

I'm not saying that was the case; I'm just saying I don't know. And I bet if that WAS the case I'd be a little more forgiving about her incessant cough and runny nose. Suddenly it wouldn't seem like such a big deal.

So try to think about it next time: Maybe that client who gave you a hard time today is going through a messy divorce. Maybe that cashier who seemed spacey and was totally unhelpful just suffered a loss in her family and is distracted. Maybe that slow driver was in an car accident recently and is still kind of terrified to be behind the wheel. Maybe that friend who acted weird and unfriendly to you and your kid recently found out she's unable to have a baby herself.

Maybe these people are just dicks; I'm really not sure.

But maybe -- just maybe -- we can be a little nicer in general. Because you never know.