Earlier this year I attended a training and at one point a few of us were standing around chatting. Someone brought up hiking and I threw in my plans to walk the Camino later in the year. Immediately one person asked about my training plans. I shared that I would be running a half marathon a few days before I left for Spain, so that, combined with some hiking with my pack would be my training. I then heard how runners aren’t very good at hiking and how thin people aren’t good at carrying heavy packs. It didn’t take long for me to check out of the conversation and walk away. Somehow my exciting adventure became an opportunity for them to criticize and share unsolicited (and incorrect) advice.
The whole incident really rubbed me the wrong way. I kept my mouth shut the rest of the training because I didn’t trust them with any other information about my life.
Earlier this spring I began telling friends and acquaintances about our plans to get a puppy. Right away I heard comments like, “Are you sure you want to do that?” and “A puppy? Really?” These were people I knew well, people I trusted. Instead of choosing joy and excitement, they chose judgment and criticism. The thing is, if I had said instead, “I’m pregnant” I would have been bombarded with “I’m so happy for you!” and “What wonderful news!”
I’m not sure if they are aware but a puppy is less work, less money and less stress than a child. And, this puppy brings me so much joy and love. I’m not sure what the problem is here…
Then, just a few days ago I was talking with a friend and her friend. I was telling them how great Steve is and what a great puppy he is, etc etc. Immediately the friend of a friend chimed in with “He’s fooling you now… his true colors will come out!” suggesting that he really isn’t a good dog but that somehow he’s tricking us. Right, because that’s what puppies do. (insert eye roll)
In all three cases what I’ve noticed is that people have a hard time with other people’s joy. Not all people, but some. I understand that I’ve written about my struggles with news about pregnancies; however, I’ve never, not once ever, said to an expecting couple, “That’s a horrible idea, do you know how hard babies are?” No, I would never do that. I share in their joy because it’s THEIR joy. I may walk away at times but that’s because I don’t want to dampen THEIR joy with MY grief.
There’s a group of kids in Plainfield, IN who make t-shirts and signs that say, “Just Be Kind.” If I have the choice between criticism and kindness, I hope I’ll choose kindness. If I have a choice between judgment and kindness, I hope I’ll choose kindness.
There are times, however, that I don’t choose kindness. There are times that I criticize and judge and am kind of mean, but I keep those conversations private – with my husband or a close friend. We all need to vent and let those negative feelings out. That is perfectly normal. I just choose not to do that in front of the person that I’m criticizing or judging. Even if it’s not always authentic, I do my best to choose kindness because if I practice it enough, eventually it will be authentic.
I think it’s easier to be kind than mean. I think it’s easier to be kind than critical. I think it’s easier to be kind than judgmental. And, if it’s not easier in the moment, then I get an opportunity to practice kindness.
I’m not perfect. I know I’ve said hurtful things to people. I know I’ve inadvertently hurt people’s feelings. But, every interaction is a new opportunity to just be kind.
I have a feeling the classmates I spoke with in January don’t remember that conversation at all. They have no idea the impact their comments made. Likewise, I doubt my friends or the woman earlier this week realized what they were saying to me. Their words made an impact and I still remember them.
Yesterday a former youth sent me a message thanking me for the impact I had on his life. It came completely out of the blue, which made it all the more powerful. Although the harsh comments I’ve heard this year are still with me now, they won’t stay nearly as long as the kind, thoughtful, grateful words I read yesterday. My heart was full of love and gratitude and beautiful memories because he took a few moments from his day to send me a message.
It may seem too easy or maybe too naïve, but I don’t care – I think it’s possible for one simple phrase to change the world. The kids in Plainfield are doing their part. Are you doing yours?
Just be kind.