On my 7th or 8th birthday, a sweet little girl named Amy giggled with excitement as my mom announced that it was time for the birthday girl to open gifts. Everyone gathered, tired from what seemed like hours of pony rides across my dad’s farm land, but Amy eagerly planted herself at the front of the pack and requested that I open her gift first. What I wouldn’t know until later was that she had already told my mother all about the gift, and my mother’s anxiety was growing by the second. You see, I already had this particular Smurfs purse, which was carefully tucked away in my dresser at home. Although it was my favorite new treasure, my mom was anticipating a less than stellar reaction to receiving a duplicate. This feeling was tempered only by her hope that I would pull through the awkward moment with a gracious response.
Just for fun, let’s turn this into a multiple choice question. How do you think I responded?
a.) I smiled, thanked Amy for such a thoughtful gift and later discussed exchange options with my mom.
b.) I congratulated Amy on her great taste since I had recently picked out the very same purse.
c.) I absently said, “I already have this” and moved on to the next gift unaware that my friend, deflated, had moved to the back of the pack.
While I desperately wish I could reveal A (or even B) as the correct answer, I’m sure you’ve already guessed that C was the reality. My mother was furious with me over my behavior and I will never forget the words she spoke to me later that day.
“Kendy, there are 3 really important things in life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind. If you get one right out of the three, I’ll be happy.”
I think most of us view ourselves as reasonably kind people…..but on what scale? When I look back at the events that stand out most in my memory, they are the times when I was either intentionally or unintentionally unkind to someone. Forget the abundance of situations where my kindness shone above all others’, as those carry far less weight in comparison to the moments I failed myself with hasty words or actions.
As a parallel, when couples learn skills to restore or enhance their relationship in marriage counseling or education, a foundational principle says that, for every put-down, one has to say 7 positive comments to balance the scales. I believe the kindness scale is no different in revealing how powerful our negative or neglectful actions may be.
They always say that kids can be devastatingly cruel and my experience is that “they” are right. I can remember a few things I said and did as a kid that I’d most certainly take back if I had the choice. I see kids my daughter’s age treating each other in ways that boggle my mind. And the hard part is that, for the most part, these kids aren’t BAD kids. For example, there’s a girl in my daughter’s dance class who intimidates the younger girls by telling them that 1st graders stink and are stupid (being in 2nd grade makes her far superior!). She laughs and, I’m sure, views herself as funny and harmless, but my daughter recounts stories each week in such a way that I know she truly worries about what the girl will say or do. Now, my daughter is no saint and I’ve been equally disappointed by her careless words and actions at times, but that’s my point….great kids say terrible things sometimes without understanding the consequences.
Now that I’m an adult, I am much more aware of the importance of kindness and seek opportunities to intentionally demonstrate consideration of others. But this doesn’t mean I don’t find myself failing in new and different ways. Now, my moments of unkindness are subtle, but no less real or damaging. As I reflect on my day, I get stuck on the conversations where I didn’t give my full attention or the seconds where I interrupted another. And when I attempt to objectively evaluate my level of kindness with others, I find that sometimes I am least considerate of those I love most. This is always a sobering moment, but one I embrace as a gentle reminder of my priorities in life.
To bring you full circle to the title of this post, I obviously didn’t really learn everything I know about kindness from little blue people. However, my actions have and always will be measured against a fuzzy mental image of that awesome Smurfs purse. Why? Because the memory makes me feel BAD and serves as a motivator to avoid repeating mistakes. If I am to raise my children using the same foundational principle of kindness that my mother used with me, my own words and actions as an adult have a profound impact on them. I previously wrote about this concept related to self-image, but the same applies to how we approach other people. If my children only see my irritation at the lady who’s taking too long in the grocery line, that becomes the barometer by which they measure their own level of kindness. But if I make a conscious decision to be kind at all costs, chances are they will follow suit.
If I succeed, I’ll always be able to say “Do as I say and as I do.” And THAT, my friends, feels really good.
Editor’s note: Kendy’s “Woman2Woman” post fit our “Relationships” topic very well. Therefore we’re running it a day early. Okay, Kendy – I’ve got it… be kind, be kind and be kind. Thanks for the kind thoughts!