"Mom, why do people hurt people?"
This question hit me like a lead balloon. Having my own trust issues with people in general, I wasn't quite sure how to respond.
I don't want to pass down any bitterness I've acquired in this life. But I also don't want to propel my kids into a life of naivete.
My best educated answer is this: Hurt people hurt other people, and pain perpetuates more pain.
A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, that has always resonated: "When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help."
I believe those words to be true. But what do you actually do? How much of yourself do you sacrifice to help someone else?
Do you walk away immediately? Do you give him or her a second chance? A third? When do you muster up your self-worth and separate yourself from the people who hurt you?
It's all because of love. Even those who inflict pain want love. They crave it. And either they've never been loved as they desired or they can't receive it because of their own lack of self-worth.
So they reject it.
We have to tell our kids we've all been hurt. Some people take their pain and perpetuate the cycle, while the fortunate turn it into wisdom and make peace.
Our children deeply treasure acceptance, even and sometimes especially from those who hurt them. We want them to be generous with love but never give more than they can stand to lose. Do even adults understand this?
Is it our job to shield them from pain? Or is it pain that will build them into who they're meant to be?
In my deeply embedded instinctual motherly opinion, I tell my kids people are going to hurt you. People who love you are going to hurt you, and often, you will have given the best part of your heart to that person.
How someone treats you is in no way a reflection of you, but of him or her. When people lie to you, it is because they aren't strong enough to admit the truth. When people betray you, it is because they are too cowardly to do the right thing.
When people lash out at you, your action may be the catalyst, but it is the anger, sadness and pain in their heart that causes them to spew venom.
I remember a good friend having a house — a small mansion — built. We were renting a small house. She invited me to view it. I couldn't help but scowl and nitpick at some of her choices in the floor plan and furniture.
I look back on that day 15 years later and know full well her house was just fine. It was me, unhappy with my own home, who chose to inflict pain on a dear friend when she did absolutely nothing wrong.
I watched a great movie called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It had this profound quote: "We accept the love we think we deserve."
I want my kids to know that they deserve to be loved and treated fairly, but I want them to be assured that when someone lashes out at them, it is not related to their worth or value as a human. And, if anything, what should arise from the pain inflicted is a greater awareness of how you treat those you love.
Be generous. Love the unlovable. Kill the world with kindness. But never allow the world to deplete you. Helping others can be a great benefit and can bring you joy. Love conquers hate.
Having said that, know when to walk away from someone who no longer serves you in a positive manner. You can never prevent or eliminate pain. You can only choose how to use it to shape your personal journey.
Heather Tempesta is a Brandon mother of two sons, 16 and 9, and a daughter, 14.