Listen and #Submit the Stigma

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu

There’s a Jim Carrey quote floating around the Internet lately that says, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” There’s some very Buddhist tone to that involving being in the moment and how happiness comes from inside that may be beyond the scope of this article. The things that bother us are often not what they seem. It can be good to take a step back and attempt to find the root of what makes us feel the way we do.

One of the things I try to consistently tell the kids class is that the only person they have any control of is themselves. Another thing I talk to them about is all the reasons fighting is a last resort. They’re pretty good at coming up with “You might get into trouble,” “You could get hurt,” “You could hurt someone else,” but I’m also proud they seem to grasp the idea that whenever someone is picking on them it probably has nothing to do with them anyway. I ask, “Have you ever had a bad day and then you’re kind of mean to your mom or dad just because you’re in a bad mood, but it’s not their fault?”

We can’t ever know why others do the things they do. We can accept and allow them the freedom to open up without feeling judged or escalated. If someone is acting in an unusual way, asking them calmly what is going on can be just the outlet opportunity they need. Even better is asking people genuinely how they are doing even when everything seems fine. Everybody has a story.

Your tone matters when you ask people to open up. If I approach someone with a note of accusation in my voice I can trust they will shut down further. My tone conveys that their actions and behavior are causing an inconvenience for me. If I am honest, I’m not really asking them at all. Instead, I’m putting a veil over my need to express how bothered I am. I have the power to de-escalate my emotions and change the conversation into something real whether or not the other person chooses to join me. Be curious instead of reactive. Make wonder genuine.

Empathy is a powerful thing. A sense of belonging is a powerful thing, which means that the opposite is also true. Feeling ostracized and alone is debilitating. Even those that seem happy on the outside have their own demons to deal with. Try letting those around you feel safe and comfortable with being honest. When something bothers you, tell them, and allow them to do the same thing in return. Realize that opening up is to be vulnerable and your reactions are more about you than them. Find out what they want to change and help them if you can.

Take care of yourself too. If you’re not in a place where you can emotionally handle what someone you care about is going through, turn to others that can help. Forgive yourself and realize that just as you can’t help others on a plane if you don’t first put on your own oxygen mask, you won’t be able to help anyone if you’re being crushed yourself. This is why I love the community, helping each other back and forth when we can in a tide that’s always shifting but which we are all in together. You’re not alone, ever.

Fellow Digitsu writer Erin Herle has been running the Submit the Stigma campaign ( for over a year to raise awareness about mental health and create space for people to talk about it. If people are taught that speaking up is not synonymous with being judged they just might do it. Letting off that steam can be what they need to start on a path to feeling better, and hopefully even seeking professional help when they need it.

Try to be a listener. Embrace gratitude in your life and let others speak up about their lives. You can both start and change the conversation. Practice, practice, practice. Everything gets better with practice.

Our sense of humanity and unity is at its height when tragedy strikes. Imagine if we could capture a little more of that when everything is going pretty ok.