Being Kind Without Being Hurt

My mother always taught me that you can never go wrong being kinder than necessary. I believe that this is true and have tried to live my life with that perspective. However, this outlook can also leave you vulnerable to being mistreated. It’s why a lot of people are hesitant to be kinder. However, if we’re all focused on avoiding being hurt, it makes it very hard for being kind to become normal rather than exceptional.

Avoiding being hurt is a legitimate concern, of course. Jesus told us to love other “as we love ourselves”, not “instead of loving ourselves”. It is not good or healthy to extend kindness to others at the expense of our own mental and emotional wellbeing. And yet, unless you want to continue living in with the results of human being protecting themselves at the expense of other human beings, we must learn to do a better job extending kindness.

I have a simple trick I use which allows me to take the risk of being kinder than necessary or called for without leaving myself open to being unduly harmed in the process. Before I take a risk or extend kindness and forgiveness to someone who may not deserve it or be trustworthy, I do a quick gut check. I simply imagine the worst case response from the other person and see what my gut level reaction to the idea is. Hopefully I’ll realize that the worst case scenario isn’t so bad after all. I can take the risk of being kinder than called for, confident that I can deal with whatever result I get.

On the other hand, if do my gut check and realize that I’m unwilling or unable to deal with the worst case scenario, I respect my own limitations and refrain from taking the step I was considering. Of course, there have been days where I have decided not to make phone calls simply because I knew that I wasn’t up for dealing with the possibility that the person I’m calling would ignore/refuse my call. Which is healthy when your emotions are particularly fragile. But as I said earlier, the goal isn’t simply for us to self protect. The goal is to be kinder than necessary without doing harm to ourselves.

So, if I do my gut check and realize that I’m not up for dealing with a negative outcome, I consider why that would be. And if there’s anything I can do about it. Sometimes I just need to give myself a little pep talk. Sometimes I realize that I have an unhealthy attachment to the other person’s approval which I should be doing something about. Or maybe I have a fear I need to hand over to God. On occasion, I’ve just had enough of someone’s crap and am perfectly entitled to take a break from dealing with it.

Ideally, I would be out in the world just spreading kindness with the joy of the Dali Lama and not a care in the world. If I’m not able to do that (and I’m not. Neither are you), that’s a sign that I’m still a work in progress. There’s room for growth and healing. Being conscious of when kindness is a struggle rather than something I do with ease actually increases my ability to be kinder than necessary.

Sure, this approach means that in the short term, I may hold back more than I ideally would. But it also creates a safe place for me to expand my boundaries. And I’m not going to find myself in a position where I’ve been so hurt or traumatized by someone who responds to my kindness by being a jerk that I’m hesitant to try it again. So, who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to go around spreading kindness without a care in the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world filled with people like that?


The Right Way to Stone Those You Love

Missy Piggy Tattoo by Jamie Sapp. Inspired by my career making performance, no doubt.

I’m not sure exactly what came over me, but one afternoon in the music room in junior high I was so charged up from a long day of doing anything I could think of to keep myself amused that I stood up and belted out the words “Look at moi! I’m as helpless as a piglet in a trough! . . . I get hungry just holding your hand!” like a 12 year old soprano Ethel Merman.  That afternoon, I remember standing by my mom’s bed where she was folding laundry and telling her a little sheepishly that I was going to be Miss Piggy in the school play.  It was kind of a big deal for me, but the thought of my family seeing me behave so outrageously was pretty mortifying.  And not only that, but I was going to be singing and dancing with a boy in my class.  In front of everyone!  A kind of cute boy even.  (Not that he could hold a candle to Justin Belt who was not only the hottest 12 year old ever, but inexplicably, spoke with an english accent of some sort.  I think I would have lost control of myself in some way if I had to dance with Justin Belt in front of everyone.)

I, of course, stole the show.  Or maybe not.  I don’t really remember.  But what I do remember is something my mom told me after the show.  Some woman who I vaguely knew existed had sought out my mom and told her that I had “a voice like a beautiful bell.”  Now, I do love singing – always have.  But for many years, I had a huge hang-up about singing in front of people.  So, I really had to push past my comfort zone to make a big ham out of myself in front of my classmates and whoever else was there.  This woman’s compliment was my reward. 

I now only have a medium sized hang-up about singing in front of people.  Continue reading

The Altruism of Babies

I have a 13 month old baby who has recently started offering us portions of her food to share. Of course, she also throws herself on the floor and screams when you stop her from climbing on everything like a monkey. Basically I am living with both sides of the argument over whether people are intrinsically good or bad quite well. Really, it’s a stupid argument, IMO. If we’re made by or in the image of the divine, then we have something intrinsically good in us. If we also demonstrate a willingness to beat someone with a hard toy to get a cookie, then there’s also something intrinsically bad in us as well. But claiming that it’s one or the other seems preposterous to me.

At any rate, all you have to do is look in the daily paper for evidence to support the idea that people are born bad and need to be civilized to overcome their fallen nature. But now science is scoring a point for those of us who think that’s far too simplistic a story line. A study published in the journal Science has found that toddlers show a natural tendency towards altruism (story about the study here). In the experiment the scientists performed tasks in front of toddlers while appearing to need simple help like picking up something which had fallen out of reach. The toddlers very consistently and without exception tried to help when they saw the need even though these people were strangers and there was no reward. According to one of the scientists who conducted the study:

“The results were astonishing because these children are so young – they still wear diapers and are barely able to use language, but they already show helping behaviour,” said Felix Warneken.

Of course chimps in similar studies behave in much the same way – they just aren’t as good at figuring out when someone needs help as human babies are.

If nothing else, I suppose I should be glad that my daughter shares something in common with monkeys beyond an uncontrollable urge to climb. I wonder if baby chimps throw temper tantrums? Hmmmm . . .