The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:
I’m a woman in my 20s, and I failed to help a friend who was isolated from other students when we were in junior high school. I still regret this.
She and I were good friends in elementary school. After entering the same junior high school, however, we drifted apart, partly because we chose to do different school club activities.
Soon after becoming a junior high school student, my friend started to be isolated from other students. She asked me if we could be friends again just as we had been in elementary school, but I followed the crowd then, so I could not.
After a while, she started to be absent from school more often than before. I also heard she had attempted to throw herself onto the railroad tracks from a station platform.
She nevertheless got a friend or so before graduation, as far as I can remember. She didn’t miss our school excursion, and I found her among the participants in our coming-of-age ceremony.
However, every time I think about her, I can’t help but recognize I’m a cold and nasty person. I feel despair at the gap between my ideal of what a human being can be and what I am. I even wonder whether I deserve to live.
T, Nara Prefecture
Dear Ms. T:
You blame yourself for having failed to say something sympathetic to your isolated friend. Your problem can be shared by many, or most people, I think.
We have the expression, “reading the situation.” It seems we’ve been more required to do so recently. We also become so afraid of the idea we could also be isolated if we take the side of an isolated person or a minority. It is safer to act in concert with a majority or a powerful group.
Considering this social trend, it means a lot that you’ve realized you kept in step with the people around you.
To offer a helping hand to someone isolated, we must be strong. Such strength, however, doesn’t mean pushing someone away. It means to voice and defend yourself while maintaining your dignity when you are unfairly criticized or unreasonably treated.
To exercise such strength for someone else means we have to work hard to do things we think are helpful for others — even though they look insignificant — in our daily lives. I hope you won’t abandon your ideal and will keep patiently moving forward.
Junko Umihara, psychiatrist