See What’s on the Inside

In the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the protagonist Quasimodo has physical deformities and has been forbidden by his villainous master from ever leaving the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral.  His lifetime of profound isolation leaves him longing for just one day out among the people.  He has spent his life watching people, memorizing their faces, hungry for the histories they show him.  He sees them every day “shout and scold and go about their lives, heedless of the gift it is to be them” and muses that “if I were in their skin, I’d treasure every instant.”  I think we all can feel like Quasimodo at times, as we look out at others’ lives and compare them to our own, often in a negative way.  Quasimodo longed to be like the people he saw because of his physical and emotional isolation from others (plus the verbal abuse of his master).  It is an extreme case of isolation, but I think everyone has felt like this to a degree.

The opposite of emotional isolation is emotional support.  There are many ways to provide support, but one of the most helpful is to listen.  If someone asks for advice, give it, but it’s more important to listen.  I often use people I trust as a sounding board for my ideas and my feelings.  Sometimes I need to vent before I can think rationally.  Having someone to talk to and bounce ideas back and forth with is valuable.

If you are less comfortable talking to people, that’s okay.  Find a way to get your feelings out and express yourself, whether that’s through writing in a journal, being creative, or doing something physical. I have a couple of very good friends, but otherwise my outlet is journaling.  I feel like I can think more clearly when I am typing at the keyboard.  I find that it helps to journal about certain things before I talk to anyone about them.  By journaling first, I sort out my thoughts and uncover the core problems.

When you want to provide emotional support to others, remember to keep it simple.  Just being there and listening is hugely beneficial.  However, there is a step that is needed before you can listen.  That step is to notice that others need someone to listen to them.  It is so easy to merely go about our daily lives without noticing others’ needs.  With our busy lives and technology at our fingertips, we can get lost in our own world, the inner world we each create for ourselves.  Successful communities are built upon, and dependent upon, people forming good relationships with each other.  New York Times columnist David Brooks has defined a successful community as “a bunch of people looking after each other, a bunch of people seeing each other—and seeing each other deeply, taking the time to really enter into a relationship with each other, to depend upon one another” (“Finding the Road to Character” [Brigham Young University forum address, Oct. 22, 2019]).

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo finally gets some emotional support when he meets Esmeralda, who is an outsider herself.  She ends up exploring his domain and sees the beautiful things he’s made over the years.  She, in fact, thinks he is lucky to have lots of space to himself and thinks he has an incredible view from the bell tower.  She shows him kindness and builds him up instead of focusing on his physical deformities.  Esmerelda takes the time to see Quasimodo deeply, looking at his heart instead of his appearance.  We should do a little better at doing that for those around us.

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