As Tunisians, a great majority among us are living or have experienced living in toxic environments whether we are aware of it or not. This toxicity varies from constant mildly annoying behavior to straight out verbal or/and physical abuse.
It can be found in all sorts of places, from the school teacher who hits and yells at the children, to the taxi driver who decides to casually give you a lesson in Shari’a at 7 in the morning, to the security guard in certain public establishments who acts as if he owns the place. The point is: we are engulfed in toxicity and abuse in almost all aspects of our lives in this country.
Constantly being on the receiving end of others’ rude behavior automatically lowers our expectations and standards for the people we interact with. And so decency becomes a rare valuable currency. Now, imagine with me, in the middle of all this negativity, all this outrageous amount of toxicity, we come across an act of kindness.
It can be as simple as a gift or as thoughtful as leaving everything behind to help you on an emergency. I don’t believe you need a PhD in psychology to understand that your brain almost instantly labels this person as “good”. It is like finding an exotic fruit, an avocado in the middle of a desert.
The word good might be written on this label, but the label itself is anything but good. You see, what happens next is that everytime this person, who has committed an act of kindness, does something wrong, bad, rude, whatever it might be, your brain will jump back to that act of kindness and use it to justify what this person did. Why? Because he has a label on his head saying “good”.
And as outrageous as it might sound, almost all of us do it from one time to another. We have a tendency, as humans, to categorize people, from the strong impressions they leave on us, into good or bad. And it is really hard to grab someone from one category and convince yourself to throw it into the other one.
And this is the point in which you need to realize that you do not, in fact, have to endure certain people’s toxic or abusive behavior just because they were nice once or twice or even for a year or two. This isn’t being ungrateful. This is setting your expectations straight in a country filled with negativity and mediocrity and having enough self-respect to let yourself be aware of the way you are being treated.
A toxic fruit might be fascinating, interesting, and different in a thrilling way. But that does not mean that it won’t rot like every other fruit out there.
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Jasser Hammami is a published author, a freelance editor and translator, a minorities’ rights activist, and an English major student.