I wish I had a dime for every time I've asked a client, "is that something you have control over?" I could easily be retired and nestled away quietly in a log cabin in the beautiful foothills of Montana. So many mental health issues today are directly a result of things completely outside of our control. Think about this for a minute, how much control do we have over our co-workers behavior? How much do we allow the behavior of our co-workers to effect our day? The answers to both might initially be "a lot" but realistically the only thing we have control over is the way we choose to respond (if we respond at all) to the behaviors of others.
There are all sorts of therapeutic directions to go from that point of the discussion but the focus will now shift to kindness. Let's take a look at a potential scenario and what our options might be in handling that scenario. A mother is standing in line with her children at Wal-Mart and one is screaming she wants a toy, one is tapping her on the shoulder loudly yelling "mom!" over and over again, and another is bouncing up and down on the front of the cart. You come up behind her in line and she sees you looking at one of the kids and she says sharply, "what are you looking at?!" Most, if being honest, would immediately shift to defensive mode or simply ignore the woman, however, the person who truly loves themselves seeks to aide others and also is more capable of seeing things from other's perspectives. One choice that many would not have thought of is to simply be honest, "I was looking at your beautiful children and admiring how you have been able to keep it all together, I know when my kids did this I struggled to be as patient as you."
This choice not only deflects any further negativity but also helps in picking up a Mother who, based on her initial reaction to you, is at wits end and likely needs a daily dose of kindness at that point. It is also an opportunity to teach kindness as well.... sort of like a happy, fast spreading plague.
Kindness is incredibly empowering. It's something we can always choose and by having that ability we gain power over our lives and we feel awfully damn good doing it. Had the response in the above scenario been negative, who actually had the control, me or her? What would I have felt afterward? What might have she felt afterward? Being kind to those who are unkind is like hitting someone with a surprise left hook they didn't see coming because negative responses are often the only thing that people like the above mentioned Mother have ever experienced.
So, why are we so negative and why aren't people more kind? A lot has to do with our culture and media exposure. We don't really value kindness as much as we should. When watching any action movie where there is an antagonist and a protagonist, the plot usually revolves around the bad guy doing something to the good guy and the rest of the film is the good guy getting revenge on the bad guy. You can trace this from Gun Smoke to today's blockbuster superhero movies. Revisiting control for a minute, we have been duped into believing that being mean, aggressive, vindictive somehow promotes change in others....giving us a very false sense of controlling those people. In all truth, those above traits create fear, resentment and a eventually abandonment. Another influence is our constant bombarding of negative posts through social media. I once counted 30 posts and of those only 5 could be considered positive or neutral. Lastly, our mainstream media outlets have a firm understanding that people pay attention to what they are afraid of. By fear mongering they draw ratings and by drawing ratings they make money. Thus perpetuating this culture of negativity. I encourage clients to unplug as often as possible to get away from the daily deluge of awful.
Practicing kindness is at times difficult because we feel that we are somehow letting those who have wronged us get away with something, but if you hold grudges they truly are getting away with stealing your enjoyment for however long you hold the grudge. Practice kindness and take your power back!
Derik S. Berkebile, LCSW, CMH, ACHP-SW