Throughout my life, I’ve heard countless people describe themselves as broken, and I’ve heard countless people described by others as having it all figured out. I don’t think I’ve ever once heard someone describe themselves as having it all figured out. This is not a coincidence.
Broadly, in this blog series Nothing in Between, I’ll be looking at things that have been made into binaries which are actually much more complex, often treating the concept more as a spectrum than as black and white. But on this issue, there isn’t even a gray. The whole construction is wrong.
Many, perhaps most of us, believe on some basic level that we’re broken. We also believe most other people aren’t. We believe that the struggles and frustrations which plague us make us distinctly, uniquely troubled in ways that don’t manifest in other people. In believing this, we also come to believe that the majority of people are just fine, and we’re the screwed up ones.
I’m challenging both of these ideas. There’s a kernel of truth in both, but they are false when taken at face value.
Every single human experiences brokenness, so there’s no such thing as a person who has it all together. However, no one is completely, irredeemably broken – so while there’s always pain, always failure, always imperfection in each of our lives, no one is broken beyond the point of fixing. When we look at the specific cocktail of flaws that’s been prepared just for us, it may be technically true that most people don’t experience that same combination of struggles. For example, I’ve got depression, anxiety, lazy-eye, a crippling addiction to french fries, a shame-inducing hatred of seafood, and a stubborn streak that I’m starting to curb (because, fittingly, it took a long time for anyone to convince me I should). Of course, those are only the ones I feel comfortable naming on my public blog.
Even if we meet other people who can relate to one part, having the same diagnosed disorder or a similar traumatic past event, we’re predisposed to assume they handled theirs better, that ours is worse, or to look at our other struggles and say “Well, you don’t also have these problems!” I know many people who experience each of my challenges, but I don’t know anyone who also has all of them. But that only makes me unique in a very superficial way. It would be foolish to try to compare depression to cancer to loss of a loved one to poverty. Each of those things is a hardship, with its own consequences and forces; trying to decide which is “worst” is an exercise in futility.
So while the idea that I’m uniquely broken is sort of technically true, the idea that I somehow have a monopoly on brokenness is a little bit silly, because it’s predicated on some weird calculus that my precise array of cracks and breaks makes me meaningfully more broken than someone else.
I love analogies, so let’s look at it this way:
If you took two glasses out of your cupboard right now and threw them on the kitchen floor, would you pick up the pieces of each glass, count which one broke into more pieces, and then declare that the broken one? Of course not! Both are broken. And this isn’t subjective, either. If, say, your wife were to come into the kitchen to see what the noise was, she wouldn’t say “Andrew, you prodigious cretin, you broke one of these glasses and the other one is doing a great job in the face of adversity.” She’d say, “Andrew, you lumbering buffoon, you broke two glasses!”
In fact, in Japan there is an art called Kintsukoroi, or Golden Repair, where broken pottery is repaired using golden lacquer, highlighting the breaks as part of the item’s history, rather than trying to hide them and pretend they never happened. What would our golden lines be, if we did that in our lives?
What’s the Point?
Here’s the thing: literally every person is broken in one way or another. Some of us might just have chips or hairline fractures in the glass, while others may need lots of glue to fix, but there isn’t a person on the planet without a scratch on ’em.
I understand why we don’t realize this intuitively. We only see what others show us, which means we see a higher proportion of good stuff to bad stuff. But we see all of our own bad stuff. So we naturally develop this assumption that we’re more screwed up than everyone else because we don’t hear people admitting the kinds of things that we admit to ourselves.
But when we recognize that this is a matter of perception and not fact, we can reject the lie we tell ourselves that we must be whole in order to be worthwhile. Not every person can live up to any arbitrary standard, but every person is capable of finding worth, despite (or even because of) the things about themselves they see as broken.
The truth is this, as simply as I can state it:
You are broken, AND you are worthwhile. You are flawed, AND you are worthy of love. You make mistakes, AND you can do great things. You will never be perfect, AND you will always deserve to be loved.
And the same goes for every single person you meet. Share the love.