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.