Kind of kind

Posted on December 11, 2013

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This is what happens when you’re stuck in Atlanta traffic for almost two hours: you begin to contemplate life’s big questions. At least this is what happens to me.

I want a philosophy from which to live my life but I’m just not sure which one is best. There’s a particular debate I’ve been having with myself for years that I cannot resolve. This inner conflict is about kindness.

Religious teachings are too vague or too advanced for me to apply practically (Turn the other cheek if someone slaps me? Yeah, right) and so the other day, as I sat in a typical rainy mess on a Georgia expressway, I started to return to my inner debate about when to be kind to others and when not to be. The radio was playing Christmas music. A woman was singing about Jesus. And the guy who cut me off earlier now wanted to merge into my lane.

Oh, what the hell, I thought, it’s Christmas time. I should be kind. So I let him in.

For the next five miles, he did an erratic stop-and-go thing while texting and I almost rear-ended him several times.  Maybe, I thought to myself,  I shouldn’t have been so nice.

And so there I was again, back at the same old debate.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You try and do the right thing, perhaps you’re kind to someone who hasn’t been that kind to you or you forgive someone who has hurt you in the past and then you feel like kicking yourself when you get screwed over. Or, you decide that, no, this time you are not going to be taken advantage of damnit! and you then feel guilty for being somewhat of an asshole.

So then, what is the best way to live life? What’s the best way to approach relationships when it comes to kindness?

A friend of mine is really into posting quotes and she posted this the other day:  Be Kind. Everyone is fighting their own battle.

That’s certainly true. In fact, that’s one of the most surprising things I’ve learned most from being a life coach. Even my most outwardly successful, most put-together clients are really struggling. Everyone’s got shit to deal with.

But that’s the thing, though. Everyone’s got shit to deal with, including you. Where is the balance between being kind to others and making sure that we are, also, being kind to ourselves?

A few months ago, I decided to have some people over and stressed about the guest list for several days. There was a woman who was mutual friends with many of the guests whom I wasn’t crazy about. She had been rude and abrasive to me several times, but I was worried that I would hurt her feelings if she found out I had a party and invited everyone else but her. And so I decided to be kind and sent her an invitation. Several weeks later she threw a party of her own (damn those Facebook pictures that make us feel so excluded), invited the other women and didn’t invite me. I felt stupid for being perhaps too to kind to someone who clearly didn’t deserve it.

Two weeks ago, a woman who I knew through a mutual friend had her second baby. My friend sent an email out to all of us other moms asking us to volunteer to cook her family dinner one night and bring it to her house. This person was more of an acquaintance than a friend and I just didn’t feel like extending myself so I didn’t sign up to help her out. When I took my son to meet Santa the other day, this woman was there, too. She was so kind to me. She was sweet to me and sweet to my son. My mutual friend then mentioned that hardly anyone had signed up to deliver her dinner and I felt terrible. I actually love to cook and she only lives a few miles away, so why wasn’t I more kind?

See what I mean? It’s like I lesson I just can’t seem to master. Too kind or not enough?

One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou states: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. And for a long time, I thought this meant that you should just accept that some people are jerks. But sometimes we don’t give others a fair chance to show us who they really are. We meet someone for the first time when they’re having a bad week and so we assume the worst about them. Or someone reminds us of an old friend so we give them the benefit of the doubt more often than they deserve. Until we really get to know someone, we can’t determine their character. Which means that it may take time to make the wise decisions that align with our personal philosophy of how to treat others.

I’ve decided I’ve had enough internal conflict about kindness. This philosophy may seem naive, but I need to live within my personal integrity. I’m going to err on the side of kindness until the other person shows me that they can’t be trusted with it. And then I’m going to be kind to myself, accept who and where they are, and save my kindness for those who will return it.

Until I get to a place where I can honestly tell you that I feel unconditional love for all beings (I’m not holding my breath so you probably shouldn’t either) this is how I want to live my life. This, I’ve decided, will be my kind of kind.

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