An 18-Hour Coach Trip
A simple act of kindness can go a long way. But similarly, a harsh word or an insult can go even further, maybe even haunting someone until their last day.
I’m currently watching Thirteen Reasons Why: a Netflix drama about a 17 year-old girl who committed suicide. And watching this has had me reflecting back on my own life – about the things I have said and done to people, and things people have said and done to me.
I am so, so thankful that I have never been bullied nor ever been a bully, but I cannot deny that throughout my years some people have said unkind things to me and I have said unkind things to people. You just never know how your words can or will impact someone – and it’s funny how you will always remember the one cruel, mindless insult among the hundreds of compliments. I guess that’s just how we’re geared as people; the majority of us living with deep-rooted insecurities, past pain and trauma, and the like.
One incident that has stayed with me since I was 18, was from when I went on a university trip to Amsterdam with friends I had back then. Anyway, one of the girls invited her boyfriend who was 9 years her senior on the trip, along with his brother and one of their friends. This trip involved an 18-hour, yes 18-HOUR coach trip to Amsterdam and then another 18-hour coach ride back – and when I tell you that the girls boyfriend and her brother, who I had only just met for the first time by the way, insulted me about my physical appearance during the entire 18-hour journey that it took to get to Amsterdam, I do not exaggerate.
I am someone who has struggled with body image my entire life, never really being happy and fully at peace with the way I look. When I think back to being 18, I honestly thought I was huge. Obese. Now I look back on pictures, I was just a normal, curvy 18 year-old girl – not stick-thin like most of my South-Asian girlfriends, but not fat either. But for some reason, this coach trip made me the subject of continuous verbal abuse from these two boys (one of who was 28 years old – the age I am now!) who sat on the back seats getting high and sniggering away between themselves, calling me fat – over and over again. I had only just met them and being the friend of his girlfriend, I would have expected kindness and respect from the boyfriend. But nope, I received neither. I was horrified.
I tried to ignore it and take it in my stride, but I’m not going to lie, it really did get to me. I remember calling my friend back home and crying because it had upset me so much.
Now, ten years down the line, although I still think about that sometimes, I understand that their verbal abuse to a complete stranger (me) was a sign of their own mental/emotional suffering (which also explains the constant smoking). It didn’t surprise me actually to find out a few months after that trip, that the boyfriend in this story used to beat his girlfriend. I tried to get her help and she stopped being friends with me, also insulted me and called me fat (lol, the irony) and cut me out of her life. And that was the end of that.
The point I’m trying to make here is that you honestly just don’t know how much and how deeply the words you say can affect someone. As someone who always tries to be as kind as possible to everyone I meet, I never really understood growing up how people could say such mean and horrible things to each other. Why can people just not be nice?
Now I understand that many people are deeply unconscious of their own suffering, and so, probably unconsciously too, project that suffering on to other people. Maybe it’s not even purposeful – it’s really just a loud cry for help. But where does it stop?
I guess we all just need to be a lot more mindful about the things we say around and to other people, no matter who it might be. The sister that you call fat all the time may develop an eating disorder. The friend who you tease for walking funny, may eventually stop going out in public. The stranger who you call ugly, may suddenly begin to self harm. You just don’t know; you honestly just do not know.
So despite our own suffering, despite all the mean and nasty things people may have said to us, despite it all – let’s all just try to be more aware of the things we say and do to each other. Let’s just be nice! It won’t hurt. And you may just find that in doing so, you even alleviate some of the hurt and suffering within yourself. Try it. You never know.