I’m ashamed to admit that kindness used to be way down on the list of what I valued as a character trait in myself and in others. Actually, it didn’t place at all. Sometimes I’d even scoff at people I dubbed (as if it were the worst of all things to be) “nice.” I thought intellectual ability mattered more. Or work ethic. Or strength of conviction. Or sense of humor. Or, or, or . . . so many things.
I no longer feel that way. In fact, the older I get, the more stridently I believe the reverse is true. That at the end of the day, at the end of all our accomplishments, struggles, learned lessons and journeys, only kindness—how we treated other people—will matter.
It’s important to look back at what has shaped you (and continues to shape you), to consider where you’re at presently—and to contemplate what you might want to change in the future. And when thinking on said topics, I’m always struck by two truths:
1) The things that molded me most for the positive, that helped me mature, survive hard times, endure pain, find joy . . . have been the kind actions and words of people—some of whom were completely oblivious to the huge help their kindnesses, big or small, were.
2) The things that damaged me, that I still find myself having to work through (usually just after I’ve thought something like, “Ah, phew. I’ve finally dealt with all my crap and put it behind me”), were, well, to put it mildly: unkind things.
Realizing that—that more than any class I’ve taken, lecture I’ve attended, or book I’ve read, I have been changed by role models, friends, and kind strangers—was (is!) a huge challenge to me. Am I someone who positively affects the world around me, or am I someone who poisons the atmosphere with the things I say and do?
There’s a piece of wisdom, quoted by and attributed to many, but first coined by Carl W. Buehner, “They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ve found it true in every facet of life.
I think our problem with “kindness” is that it gets a bad rap; we’re confused about what it is. People, using “being kind” as their defence, let all sorts of shoddy behaviour slip by—and we see that and think, Not me. I won’t be that abused, co-dependent, taken for a ride sucker. I’d rather be a bitch, thank you very much.
But kindness isn’t being a doormat or letting everyone use you. In fact, martyr-types often hurt those around them, because they’re bitter, angry, sad, confused people, and they lash out in subtle but poisonous ways. Kindness sets boundaries, just doesn’t build walls.
True kindness is saying I value myself—and I value you. I need to be me, and I respect that you’re you. You are possibly quite different than me—but you’re equally of worth. Really believing that will affect how you treat and relate to other people. It can’t not.
It’s more than just a “live and let live attitude” though; it’s trying to live the best you can, with passion, with joy, with healing, with hope—and helping others do that too, via politeness, words of encouragement and cheer, and actions that speak louder than words.
Sometimes being kind is difficult, requiring great self-control and self-discipline. Other times, kindness just seems to flow. Either way, whether it comes naturally or feels like a sacrifice, kindness has an effect. And it matters.
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“Kindness Matters” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February January 24, 2016, as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”It’s part of a theme I want to explore in 2016—“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.” If you missed January’s, you can read it here: “What Do You Know?“