Being Soft in a Hard City
I’ve always been “soft”… sensitive, quick to tears, easily moved, and emotions easily provoked. I’m usually unable to hide my real feelings about much of anything, and am easily persuaded by the emotions of others. I’ve been taken advantage of more times than I can count because I just couldn’t make a demand, insist on my side of things, or initiate a confrontation. Instead, I’m often left stunned and helpless, swimming in my own feelings, only to think about what I should have done and said looking back at things later. If I’m hurt, I turn grief inwards, instead of the more survivalist instinct of hitting back just as hard. This has always been my nature, and those close to me always knew it to be so.
I don’t believe I feel more deeply than others, but the natural guards and instinctual shields other people have to protect themselves are somehow absent from my nature. Like anything, extremes are always damaging, and I always wished that I could make myself tougher and braver in my dealings with others — to be able to guard my feelings and expressions, so not everyone could read my genuine feelings about an issue… to clearly tell someone that they are wrong, unfiltered by niceties or subtle turns of phrase… or insist on my right to something, and have the other party be the one to defer for once and give in.
In the last few years, I’ve started to see such changes in me. Cairo, by its nature, is an abrasive city that sharpens one’s edges, and along with making one tougher can leave one with a deep cynicism for humanity. It can also instill a stinginess in a person, causing one to close in on themself, since being open and generous – whether in terms of physical possessions or emotional investment – is so often taken advantage of.
In my last year here, I’ve done things I never thought I was capable of: fiercely arguing with a taxi driver who intentionally took the longest route possible to our destination, insisting on proper seating at a restaurant when a waiter was being obstinate, coldly responding to a seller who asked too many prying questions. These everyday conflicts are things that would have left me speechless and teary eyed just a short while ago.
I feel like I’ve become tougher, and while in some ways it may be good, it scares me. I see a hardness and cynicism in the faces of many men and women here that I don’t want to see when I look in the mirror. There’s a softness of disposition, an innocent idealism when dealing with others, that even if impractical I don’t want this big bad city to steal away.
There’s a fine line between being strong and being callous, and I hope that these years in Cairo make me stronger, but do not efface any personal sense of softness, adab, kindness, warmth and gentleness that I may possess. These are prophetic qualities that I hope to inculcate and develop, and like a diamond, hope will only shine brighter at attempts to chip them away.