When I was little, my mum would say about me, “That girl would see good in Hitler.” I was too young to know what she meant. Forty years later, a conversation with a dear friend, a Japanese lady about the same age as my mum, echoed what mum used to say. Mrs Sasaki told me that I believed everyone was good, so I kept my heart open. She said that in keeping my heart open, bad people could get in there, and not everyone was as good as I thought. She asked me to be careful with my heart. And this time I knew exactly what was meant. It had taken me forty years to understand what my mum had been trying to say.
In those forty years, life had offered me many opportunities to learn that people are not always what they seem, but for some reasons I didn’t learn this lesson.
In preschool, the sewing I had worked so hard to perfect was claimed by another child, and I was handed that child’s sewing. I pointed this out but the teacher said it didn’t matter. So I sat next to the little girl who I thought was my friend, watching her delight in the result of my efforts, while I looked at her sewing in my hand, with its messy stitching, loose ends, and colours that didn’t match.
In secondary school, I found out that my teenage sweetheart had been cheating on me for years, not with random strangers but with my girlfriends. I was glad to have found out just before I was escaping to university and away from everyone.
In my early thirties, I discovered that my roommate kept a diary obsessing about my life … what I wore, what I did, what I looked like, who I slept with, how “fat” I was. I didn’t even care about those things myself. All those times we had sat together on the sofa watching TV while she scribbled away I had assumed with mild amusement that she was obsessing about her own life. She was obsessing about mine. I had thought we were best friends.
In my late thirties, an employee gave me a beautiful book, in which she had written, “I hope this book inspires you, half as much as you inspire me.” I was so touched. A few months later, I discovered that she secretly ran a gossip blog about what was going on in my life. She encouraged people to anonymously post information about me, and when nobody responded, she had conversations with herself. It was very, very odd.
I have other stories like that. Lots of chances to think back to my mum’s words and understand what she meant. But it wasn’t until now, in my mid-forties, that I finally got it. Because something happened that fundamentally changed the way I viewed the world.
When you believe that everyone is good, you become a target for those that are not. When you believe what people say to you, then manipulative people can say whatever they want to you and know they will be believed. When you have an open, loving heart, Mrs Sasaki was right, anybody can get in, including those who have no intention of being open and loving in return.
You are a target for these people not just because it is “easy” to gain your love, trust, and friendship. But because they WANT something you have and know they can never, ever have in their own lives. They want your open heart, they want the love they see surrounding you, they want the excitement, the admiration, the adventure, the achievements, the home, the money, the friends, the partner, the LIFE you have. Being close to you means they can tell themselves that all the good in your life is somehow part of theirs. They have no sense of identity of their own. They are lost souls. They are parasites. Parasites only choose the best hosts.
So is the answer to stop being trusting, loving, and open? No, it is not. You do not have to change anything about yourself. But the answer is a complicated one … one for another day.