Not long ago, I clicked “like” on a Facebook page called Humans of New York. Brandon decided one day to start taking pictures of people in New York, and eventually started asking them questions and including quotes and short portions of their stories.
Some of the stories are funny, some heartbreaking, some inspirational. But it’s not the stories that really capture my attention; it’s the comments. Most of the comments are supportive, offering love and acceptance. The internet can be a really mean place, but it can also be a beautiful, supportive place.
The project reminds me of PostSecret, where people send in post cards anonymously with secrets written on them.
One of the themes I heard most often in therapy is that people want to make connections with other people; the problem is that they often don’t know how. It seems like it should be easy. After all, most of the photos on the Humans of New York Facebook page get between 80,000 and 350,000 likes. They get tens of thousands of comments. People want to love and support others, but I guess we don’t know how, without the distancing tool of the internet.
One woman who told her story, that she left an abusive relationship, has Hepatitis C, and wanted to place her daughter for adoption so that she’d be in a a better situation, but then couldn’t go through with it. There was such an outpouring of love and support for her that Brandon set up an email address to try to connect her with services.
This is the truest side of mankind. I believe that. The truth doesn’t show up in the news with all the racial, political, sexist, hateful, violent stuff. The truth is strangers are willing to help a woman on the other side of the world.
When we pass by homeless people asking for food or money, we look at them and see what we’ve been told to see. Drug addicts. Liars. Lazy people. The truth is much more complicated, and it’s hard to maintain that disinterest and vague feeling of being better than when we know their stories. Because everyone has a story, and if we hear their stories, we can connect with them.
Next time you find yourself judging someone, I urge you to stop and wonder what their story is. What would put them in the situation they’re in? I would rather err on the side of believing a lie than judging someone too harshly. After all, we’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all done things we’re ashamed of. Compassion, empathy, and love show the truest parts of who we are.