When I was young, the most common descriptor of me was that I was kind. In my young mind, this suggested that I was weak. I wanted people to think that I was smart, brave, or possibly strong, not kind. To me, it seemed like kindness was just the way I was, no different than the fact that I had blue eyes and dishwater blond hair.
As I grew older, I realized that kindness was not a passive trait or a sign of weakness. I came to understand that kindness is an active choice and a measure of strength. Many sought after behavioral characteristics offer benefit to the bearer of that trait. Kindness does not, at least not directly. Kindness is very different than being passive or subordinate to the wishes of others. Kindness is an active process that recognizes that all people have worth and value. Being kind to a person means that you place them on the same level as you are, and treat them with the care and respect that you wish to be treated.
As you become older, it can be easy to become cynical and self-serving. As our world becomes ever more fragmented and competitive, it may seem like the best “get ahead” option is the best option for a good life. As a society we celebrate aggression, ruthlessness, and power. We are told that these qualities will get us a big house, a trophy partner, and a fancy car. We are led to believe that having these things will give us happiness. Of course, this is not the case.
You know that I love my toys and that things, such as my cameras give me great pleasure. However, those objects are only valuable as tools, and in fact, they have no value by themselves. What good is it to have a high-end camera if I don’t have a subject to photograph, or someone to share that photograph with? Without connection taking pictures is just a job.
We are defined by the connections that we have with others. That holds true even for an introvert like me. I envision myself at the center of my “ relationship web.” Connected close to me are those people who I love greatly, a bit further out are those I care about, then those I associate with, and so on. Somewhere in a distant ring of my web is the checker at the Jewel, or the neighbor three blocks away who I occasionally see on my morning walks. My web keeps me not only connected but also supported. Without it, I would be spinning out of control and without direction.
We all have these webs of connections, but our connectors can be very different depending on our efforts and expectations. Some of us have webs that enhance who we are, and some have webs that pull us apart and prevent us from being ourselves.
In life, you will make choices, and some of those choices will center on your connections with others. Some may think that the ultimate goal is to be popular or to be part of a popular group. I would caution you that the entrance fee to such a cadre is high. To be accepted you will be required to bend to the will of others, you will have to show your “ popularity superiority” by putting down others, and you will be expected to do things that you may not be comfortable with. In other words, you will lose yourself to gain something that is artificial and easily lost.
So how does one form a healthy support web? Instead of seeking external validation by belonging to a high-demand group, it is better to find internal peace by seeking individuals and groups that mirror your core values and behaviors. Most good things in life require some work, and that is the case here. Quality people are attracted to quality people. Seek people in your life who are intrinsically kind, and who value you for who you are. In turn, it is imperative that you are kind to and value them.
Kids, I see great kindness in each an every one of you. That same kindness trait that I now value in myself. Make it a priority to keep it alive, nurture it, embrace it, and practice it. Being kind is not an action that should be reserved for those in the inner rings of your connection web, it should extend outward to all corners, no matter how weak or temporary. Extend your kindness to the clerk at Walmart, the waiter at your favorite breakfast joint, and the receptionist at your doctor’s office.
At the beginning of this letter, I mentioned that kindness was a trait that didn’t offer direct benefit. However, it does provide indirect benefits. When you treat others with kindness and respect, they are more likely to return those feelings to you. What could be better than that?