Choosing kindness

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Wow, I'm on some kind of blogging rampage! I can't help it, I need to get this stuff out of my brain!

I posted on Facebook earlier saying:

I'm really glad that my sensitivity meter is not on overdrive these days, and that I'm starting to just call bad behaviour what it is, instead of feeling like I brought it on somehow and that it reflects on my worth as a person.

There are a lot of rude people on their high horses these days, who especially use the internet as their platform, who've completely lost sight of KINDNESS. Who would rather be "right" and protect their "image" as popular or competent than show compassion. 

I no longer want any part of that. KINDNESS is the glue that holds us all together.

A struggle with in-person kindness

It's taken me several years to get to this place, and I'm at best 50% to where I'd like to be with it. I struggle with choosing "kind" over "right" all the time. It's in my nature (and/or a learned behaviour) to be a know-it-all, and to show my "superiority" by out-doing and out-knowing others. Of course, anyone who looks a little deeper knows this kind of behaviour is indicative of a person not feeling good enough themselves. I think this side of me comes out the most around the people dearest to me, which I'm now beginning to understand is because they are the people I feel most vulnerable with, and so feel most I need to protect myself around. Backwards I know, but read Daring Greatly and a lot of this will start making more sense.

The thing is that it's hurtful. It's hurtful to others, and in a weird way to myself, to make others feel dumb or wrong because they didn't know something or do something the way I think is right. I'm working on trying to be kinder in person, in situations where I tend to condescend or want to prove my betterness. And in working on this myself, I'm becoming much more aware of it in other people.

I think my awareness around this started a couple years ago during a rather un-notable moment, when I was saying something about how I couldn't believe a prospective client didn't understand some technical issue. The moment stuck with me because one of my old coworkers quickly pointed out that it wasn't them that was the problem, it was me because I wasn't "normal" anymore.

He meant this in a very supportive way, and was pointing out the simple truth that my level of understanding of the issue was no longer within the realm of what "non-technical" people would normally understand. It wasn't them, it was me. And slowly, I began to develop an awareness of how important it was to explain and teach people supportively and without judgement of their previous knowledge. If I was irritated that someone didn't know something, the problem likely wasn't them, it was me.

Online kindness

I actually have an easier time practicing kindness online. I rarely feel the need to out-do, condescend, etc. online and find it very easy to be supportive and helpful. Maybe it's because I feel less vulnerable with the distance of some wires and a screen.

But the internet has given a huge platform to a lot of people, and that distance is the very thing that makes a lot of people feel like it's okay to be rude, prioritize one-up-manship or image over kindness, and condescend. Or worse yet, ignore, exclude, and isolate. Sure you can't acknowledge everyone and nobody's going to like everyone, but when you systematically mistreat or shun people even online, it's still hurtful.

The absolute worst is when someone explicitly asks for help, support, or an opinion, and instead of showing kindness and compassion to that person, someone gets up on their high horse and condescends and shames them for not knowing better.

You know what it does? It doesn't make you look cooler or smarter or make them look dumber. It makes you look like an asshat. Just like this kind of behaviour in real life.

The courage to ask

I have some weird but awesomely broken mechanism in me that makes me virtually fearless when it comes to asking questions, even... or I'll go as far as saying especially "dumb" questions. I don't care about how I look, I just want to know things or question things.

But a lot of people are very sensitive in situations like this, and it takes them a lot of courage to publicly say "I don't know" or "I wonder about this" and ask for help. When they are met with shame in situations like this, you know that does? It teaches them that it's better not to ask, know, or look or feel stupid, than to ask and open themselves up to shaming.

This is a terrible habit that so many people have, especially if you've grown up in an environment at home or in school where you were ever made to feel shame for not being or knowing enough. But all you have to do is think about yourself being the reason that this person may never ask for help again, and you'll see what an impact your behaviour may have.

Attachment to being right creates suffering. When you have a choice to be right, or to be kind, choose kind and watch your suffering disappear. - Wayne Dyer 

I know, it's so easy to take condescending, shaming, and other generally bad behaviour personally. I do it often myself, also out of habit. But the reality is that it's almost never about you, the target. It's about the person who thinks that unless they make you the smaller person in the power balance, that they will be vulnerable to some kind of harm. It may not be true, but it's something so deep in the subconscious that these people often don't even have an awareness about what they're doing.

This can all be exacerbated by the tendancy of people who are feeling vulnerable to group together, creating a protected space for them to hold their "position" in the social order. They strengthen this space in many ways, some of them innocent, and some of them downright hurtful. You can see it in every social circle, from web development, to high school students, to sometimes, even yes, personal development circles. You know why? Because no matter what age, type of work, or social standing people have, they all feel vulnerable at times, and that comes out in different ways, many of them learned and many of them negative.

But always remember, it's not about you.

So, next time you feel yourself being snippy at someone because of something you feel they're "wrong" or ignorant about, catch yourself and think about how a little more kindness could make the situation more positive for all involved.

The positive effect of kindness on the immune system and on the increased production of serotonin in the brain has been proven in research studies. Serotonin is a naturally occurring substance in the body that makes us feel more comfortable, peaceful, and even blissful. In fact, the role of most anti-depressants is to stimulate the production of serotonin chemically, helping to ease depression. Research has shown that a simple act of kindness directed toward another improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness and the person extending the kindness. Even more amazing is that persons observing the act of kindness have similar beneficial results. Imagine this! Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved! - Wayne Dyer 


Thanks for sharing this Ariane! I can relate well to needing to remember that not everyone has the same experience I do - I need to remind myself both in my teaching and coaching what it is like to be a "beginner". I think for me this is a strength, as I do remember my own struggles in learning the skills that I now teach. I work with others who either learned so young or are so naturally talented that there is a distinct gap and it's much hard for them to understand "not knowing".

I envy your ability to ask questions, I'm definitely one who's learned not to ask, even though I *know* I should, and that it's ok. It's a hard habit to shake... I'm looking forward to the rest of Daring Greatly!

Indeed, I think staying in touch with what it's like to not know is such an important part of having empathy, and being able to bring kindness into teaching/coaching situations. You seem so naturally suited to that kind of work!

Really glad you picked up Daring Greatly, it's opened my eyes up to a bunch of new ways of looking at things.

You know, I find being kind, even when I am upset about something, actually makes me feel less vulnerable than if I expressed my real feelings (of upset etc) or tried to be right. It just shields me from confrontation a lot of the time. Maybe because a lot of people I know have that issue where they like arguing for mental exercise or they really think they're right about whatever it is they're talking about, and want to let me know they're right.

I had a falling out with someone recently and some hurtful things were directed at me, and I just said, "I hope you will be happy and find what you're looking for, and I wish you well." So much easier than "I'd like to punch you."

And yeah, less harmful all around. Especially for me.

Maybe that's your zen training at play? If I'm upset, I think I'd feel like I was being inauthentic if I didn't express my feelings and acted nice instead to diffuse things. And then I'd just feel more upset from stuffing my feelings.

Though as a way to get out of a discussion you don't want to take part in that's different, sometimes it's the only way in the moment to really get out of a conversation if the other person just won't let up!

Could be the Zen practice, actually. Also I do genuinely want that person to feel better about himself and his life. Even though we fell out, there are still things about him I like, admire & even respect. And it's saddening to think a guy with such potential is unhappy with himself.

Then again, there's nothing I can do about it. It's up to him, it's his life. I did tell him how I felt too, but by the end of the conversation I was ready to let it go. Mostly.

Awesome post Ariane. I've been thinking a lot about this lately too. It's so hard to do sometimes but the peacefulness that results from not being "dragged in" is so worth it. We must pick our battles wisely!

Hey! Thanks Nick! :)

So true, I think it's almost like any change in habit, it takes some conscious effort, but it's so worth it!

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