It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the kinder one is to other people, the more kindness he or she will reap in return. (It is also a truth universally acknowledged, that the preceding passage is one of the most borrowed first lines in history, but imitation is the most sincere form of, blah, blah, blah.)
This topic came to me by chance. Last week, the cable went out, so I had to call the company so a serviceman could fix it. In an odd twist, the cable guy was the same man who came to the house when the cable went out the last time. Somehow, we got into a discussion about kindness and hospitality, and how so many people feel the entitlement to treat others so poorly. He told me that, in his field, he sometimes disrespected by his clients. I have worked in retail for more than a decade, so it did not surprise me, but I always question the wisdom of a person who would agitate (intentionally or otherwise) a person who is working for them. (Counter-productivity at its finest, ladies and gentlemen)
That led me back to a dinner I had with a family friend recently. She had just come back from a trip overseas, and felt chagrin whenever she spoke to friends and acquaintances. She could not understand the undercurrent of meanness, gossip, and entitlement that was the nucleus of every conversation she had with them. After returning from a place where the people had fewer rights, and privileges, all the complaints she heard here felt shallow and unwarranted. She also took exception to the glorification of malice.
We have all experienced it; A round of laughter after a snarky jab at a coworker. (Hello. “Queen of snarky jabs”, speaking.) Belittling comments about an acquaintance; gossip sessions devoted to the verbal evisceration of a mutual enemy. Some of us have been participants. (*raises hand*) Some of us have been on the receiving end. (*raises hand*) We all place people in boxes labeled, ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, when we do not have the right to decide which people belong in either.
Last year, I made a vow to myself to be authentic. If all I had to say were unkind things about a person, I took it as a sign that I need to keep my distance until either I changed, or the person did. I have never understood the rationale of a person who is kind as long as the person is within earshot, but as soon as he or she is out of sight, the mud-slinging begins. (Note: Whenever you sling mud at another person, you lose ground. Always.)
When I said something behind a person’s back, it had to be something that I could say to his or her face without feeling embarrassed by it. (Which, has led to some awkwardness, as in, the time I told my boss that I did not care about the daily meetings because nothing said ever applies to my position. She was not amused.)
I also made a rule by which I had to follow a criticism with a compliment to balance things out. I did all of this to be a kinder, gentler version of me. My parents taught me to treat every person the same. Regardless of whether the person is the chief operating officer of a highfalutin company, or the mail carrier who brings me my online orders, I treat them the same measure of courtesy. A title does not get a person any additional respect, and no title does not get a person any less.(On the other hand, consistent poor behavior will get a person the coldest of shoulders, regardless of rank.)
Unless proven otherwise, every person on earth is worthy of my respect.
I digress. Some of the nicest people I have met are just regular, unpretentious, working folks. Social norms tell us to esteem people in positions of power. I do, but I also esteem the people whom others ignore. For example, Cleaning people, servers, delivery truck drivers, and couriers, are fonts of information and great stories because most people treat them as though they are invisible. (They are not, and they see and hear everything.)
If you are kind to your waitstaff, they probably will not “accidentally” drop your meal on the floor and serve it back to you. If you are genuinely kind to people, they may trust you. (Instead of thinking that you’re a two-faced phony because you’re only nice when they’re around.) If you’re kind to repairmen (and women), they can concentrate on their jobs instead of wondering why they even bothered to show up.
In the years since I promised to be kind, my entire life has changed. I see people in a much better light. I am more at peace, so even if a person does not reciprocate my kindness, I don’t get angry about it. I have been reading (and re-reading) Notes From The Underground by Dostoyevsky. In one instance, the protagonist realizes that his self-loathing is the reason he is so critical of his coworkers. He unconsciously assigns his feelings of self-hatred to everyone.
He cannot understand why his smelly, stupid, and big-nosed colleagues live their lives unaware (or undisturbed) by how others see them while he is cripplingly self-conscious. He was crushed by his own high standards. I read a quote that said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see thing as we are.” If the world is an unkind, scary place, where everyone is opportunistic and evil, that may be down to one’s experiences. Either that, or it is down to the person’s own view of his or her life. If all a person looks for is ugliness, that is all they will see. If they look for the beauty, even the most dire situations will have moments of grace.
Most of us in the West live pretty cushy lives. However, a person’s circumstances do not give them free reign to treat people in whichever way they see fit. There are consequences to the mistreatment of others. (Mistrust, alienation, a bad reputation, and deep-seated insufficiency, to name a few.)
The kindest people I know are people who do not have much in the way of material wealth, status, or popularity, but they have resilience, adaptability, and an appreciation of life and the people in it.
I have already spoken long enough, so I’ll end with a quote:
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” — Kahlil Gibran