The milk of human kindness doth flow

As a serial reader of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, one of my favorite things to say is that many of the expressions with which we are most familiar came from the Bible or Shakespeare.  One night several years ago, my beau and I lay in bed during a mutual spell of insomnia (having exhausted all other options first) and gave each other “the Bartlett’s quiz”.  That night, my Bible/Shakespeare theory was born.  And indeed, the phrase “the milk of human kindness” came from William Shakespeare.

Well this one came from Amelia Earhart, apparently a well-thought woman in her own right.

“No kind action ever stops with itself.  One kind action leads to another.  Good example is followed.  A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.  The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

I’m sure Amelia was right.  And I love the root analogy.  Like mint in the garden.  Mint spreads and spreads, popping up every few inches.  Kindness was not something with which I was surrounded growing up.  It was something I had to learn later in life so it did not come naturally to me.  Therapy again – the great teacher – and I am nothing if not a gifted student.

So kindness.  I work on being kind.  I think about it always.  Part of my struggle with kindness is that I really want to be unkind to those who are deliberately unkind.  I can’t believe I wasn’t raised Catholic with the amount of guilt I carry around.

For example…   Is this wrong?  Today at work, I was trying to solve a problem of miscommunication that led me to not get what I wanted from another department.  I was not upset by this problem; I just wanted to fix it.  Unless proven to me otherwise, I figure most people are doing the best they can.  So this other person is getting all kinds of upset because she felt I did not communicate well.  I did not set out to deliberately confuse her but I’m not such a bonehead that I can’t see her point.  I have always said that if you give someone instructions that can be interpreted 100 ways and only one is wrong, all angles will be considered and the only incorrect option will be chosen.  But I was not upset about this because I figure we are discussing it and next time there will be a different outcome.  But this person wants to argue.  So I patiently respond several times but she is escalating and it is only 8:05 AM and I’m starting to think what the fuck is your life so bad that you arrive at work and start a fight with the first person you see and then I say and I quote “I think you need to take a chill pill.  What is the big deal here”.  And I didn’t say it loudly or in anger but afterwards I felt bad because I thought I might have been unkind but then I thought she was unkind and then I felt guilty because there ought to have been some way I could have approached this that would have kept her from launching.  And would I be a better person if I didn’t say chill pill?  I could have said many worse things.  I should be given some credit for that.  Out of the 100 conclusions at which we can arrive, I think the best option may be that I’m a pathetic guilt-ridden sucker who feels bad about anything that goes wrong in the room from which I am consuming oxygen.  Hey Amelia, I tried to be kind so she would be kind but this is life and we don’t always get what we want.

Now this kind of thing does not happen to me very often but I have to tell you, I spent way too much time today feeling like I may have been “unkind” because someone woke up on the wrong side of their bed.  Is there any hope for me?

I try every day to be nice to people.  I spend a lot of time thinking about that and choosing my words carefully.  I don’t want to offend anyone at work.  I like to confine offending people to my personal life by making disparaging remarks on Facebook that refer to organized religion.

I’m all over the place here.

I try to be nice.  Good.  Kind.  I try to keep my mouth shut and count to ten when I’m ready to punch someone’s lights out.  I try to be patient.  I weigh and measure my words.  When someone around me is acting in an “unusual” manner, I try to consider what is motivating their “unusual” behavior.  Wasn’t that a kind choice of words?  Now I’m making a joke, but I could hardly be more serious.  I think about these things all the time.

So soon it will be time for New Year’s resolutions.  I am going to make just one.  I will continue to try to be kind to others every single day of my life.  And the number one person I will try to be kind to is me.  Because I learned something else in therapy.  One must be kind to one’s self in order to be truly kind to others.  And then I’ll take it from there.

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8 thoughts on “The milk of human kindness doth flow

  1. Kindness is an altogether good thing. But, it surprises me how often my good intentions turn into the worst of misspoken words which mortify me later. Hours or days later, I can still be kicking myself for saying something stupid.

    The thing about communication, or lack thereof, is that we are all such individuals. The way I am wired, hearing something dismissive, like ‘Whatever’ or possibly ‘Take a chill pill’ when I’m upset is apt to make me MORE upset. This is ALWAYS the case if my husband says ‘Whatever’ to me, since he has been forewarned: He can count on me ALWAYS putting on my war paint when he uses that term dripping with teenage insouciance. Now some outrageous good humor might alter the whole awful mess, but humor is always a risk, to some extent. Again, it’s that matter, of we all are individuals, with our own histories and unique triggers.

    I hope I didn’t say something wrong, because the way my week’s going, I can’t afford days of hand-wringing :^) If it helps any, let me say this blog was something to which I could totally relate. You have a true talent for finding the common experience.

    • Glad you liked it. And thank you for those last two words – common experience. Sometimes I think I stand so alone with my neuroses. No one talks about this stuff. And here I am spending a lifetime worrying about it. And as an aside – a “wiring” comment and the differences between us all… “Whatever” makes me laugh. I had this boss – he was a funny guy and his wife told him that when she said whatever to him she really meant fuck you. And fool that he was he told us (women) this. So when he was in a ranting mood, and he was a ranter, we would smile sweetly and say “Whatever”. And then he would laugh at himself. And my mother says FINE to my father. It means the same thing. And as always Linda, thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Bunn…good job. I have worked hard to keep my mouth shut and try not to “stew” in my own juices. I find now that I am too old to get upset or annoyed..just don’t have the energy anymore. I try to be kind to everyone and turn the other cheek, which I am perfecting. I love your blog..I think by writing these words you will find your way. Any…you have always been kind to me and anyone else I have seen you with. You are a good and dear friend with a huge heart. Love ya..bye

  3. Haha…your ‘Whatever’ story just might help me get beyond my knee-jerk response to my husband. He definitely responds to humor in these situations. Like last week….

    He gashed his forehead stacking wood. Of course, he was alone when this happened, so he needed to find the first-aid supplies. He couldn’t find any, so he made do, put on some girly-hat and went back out to stack wood. My daughter and I then drove up and I said to him ‘Why are you wearing a girly-hat?’ He then started yelling about me ‘hiding’ the band-aids, and raised the hat to show one of my daughter’s kotex pads taped on his head. My daughter said, ‘Ewwww Dad is wearing a tampex on his head!’ I said, ‘Just think of it as his red badge of courage.’ We all cracked up. All arguments should go this well.

    You are definitely putting yourself out there, when most of the world lives by the motto ‘never let them see you sweat.’ But, the cloak of coolness is just that. Under it, we all have moments of doubt and despair–the human condition. We all inherit unique temperments and varying levels of resilience. Some people probably ARE less bothered than others with the neurotic stuff of life. Maybe because they are psychotic?

    I enjoy people who make attempts to live an examined life, and Susan: you are definitely one of them.

    • Love the tampax story. And I am examining – perhaps obsessively at times. Laughing. But let me tell you one of the truest things on earth. I have been putting myself out there with this blog and it may be the most liberating experience of my life. I love love love it.

  4. There’s always a bit of a high to living an authentic life, but most people never allow themselves that freedom due to fear. A pity.

  5. Oh, and that said…..I struggle with this. As an off-the-charts introvert on the Myers-Briggs inventory, I look around me and see people who socialize with great ease and seem energized by it. I will pretend to be those people sometimes because it seems like so much fun, but I’m such a bad pretender at extroversion. It’s never easy to be true to yourself ALL the time….at least, that’s my experience.

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