Thursday, January 15, 2015

on kindness

On Sunday, Pastor Jennifer said that the definition of kindness is to enjoy people.

Want to be kinder? Actively enjoy people more. 

I've always thought “being kind” meant bestowing niceness on someone. Pastor Jennifer's definition, I think, is much meatier and way more fun. Kindness is delighting—honestly delighting—in other people. How crazy-neat is that?

*** 

I recently read a blog post on parenting tips in which one of the pieces of advice was: “Ignore your mother-in-law. She knows nothing.”

The suggestion was tongue-in-cheek, meant to be funny and all. But still, it felt like a slap. Ha, ha! Those stupid mothers-in-law—

And then, Oh CRAP! Where does this leave ME? I have four kids! At least a couple of them are bound to get married! 

So I left a comment: “Lucky me, my children aren't married yet. I'm still relevant.”

Writing people off is the opposite of enjoying them. It is unkind.

*** 

In contrast! …

Back at our annual soiree, my sister-in-law and my mother were recounting their adventures from last spring when they were in Japan. Among other things, they had gone to a bathhouse—you know, the kind where all the women (men in another section) sit around naked in hot water. This was a bit stretching for my mother, but she was game. And my sister-in-law, in telling it to us women, exclaimed about my mother, “And her body is so beautiful!”

We all kind of stared at my sister-in-law. It's not every day that young women see grandmas naked and rave about their bodies.

“I'm serious!” she said. “Her skin is gorgeous!

Her words pierced. So sharp and bold, unflinching in their extravagance. So warm.

*** 

My PMS has been pretty bad this time around. Off and on, my moodiness overwhelms and I can't stand anything, especially myself.

Two days ago my younger daughter locked the keys in the car and I had a the-world-is-ending meltdown. My daughter apologized—it was an accident—but I couldn't hear her. I couldn't see her. All I could see was my own misery and misfortune. I carried on like someone had chopped my foot off.

I do not fall apart like that very often, thank goodness. But what made the situation worse was that I felt helpless against my irrational emotions, hijacked by hormones. I could not, simply could not, cope.

Which makes me wonder about the link between depression and kindness. If depression is the absence of the ability to enjoy things, are depressed people destined to be unkind?


***

One recent evening, in the throes of riotous grumpiness—snapping at my husband, fussing about life, whining and bitching and generally being the most pitiful, rotten, unlovable soul in the world—I finally collapsed in a heap of despondent despair on the sofa to watch an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

My husband scoffs at my silly Netflix shows (preferring instead to read a book), but this particular evening he walked boldly over and snuggled up next to my toxic self. It was the sweetest thing he could've done. I was at my lowest—I had nothing to offer him—and yet he was choosing to enjoy being with me.

His kindness didn't change me much, but I sure felt it. Him sitting beside me was exactly what I needed. His presence was a balm. (And I don't normally describe his presence as "a balm.")

*** 

Back to that mother-in-law joke. Maybe I couldn't enjoy it because I'm pmsing and therefore unable to enjoy things. Maybe, if I was totally even-keel, it would strike me as spot-on hilarious.

Which makes me ask: are depressed people more likely to be critical? Are kind, hormonally-balanced people less likely to shake up the status quo?

And so ramble on my thoughts.

The end.

This same time, years previous: through the kitchen window, GUATEMALA!, vanilla cream cheese braids, quick fruit cobbler, cranberry relish, starting today..., ants on a log, spots of pretty, and inner voices.  

24 comments:

  1. The best description of depression I ever read (from Andrew Solomon, I think) was that it's being able to see the beauty of a crystal glass right as it's falling towards the floor. My own bouts with depression usually make me hypersensitive to every bit of pain, and so leave me more gentle and kind with most, especially those I know are playing on my field. But I have no idea whether that's a common strand in depression. ~L

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    1. Oh, that is interesting! I am so NOT that way.

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  2. Depression is a thief. It robs you of your ability to see why being positive matters, it steals all of the reasons you have for finding the good. When in the grips of depression, being critical is the norm, because that shadowy, miserable, cold, wet, insidious thing that is sitting right outside your peripheral vision blocks your ability to empathize, or even comprehend. What is the point? Everything you see, do or experience is missing something. There is a filter over the world and, while you KNOW that there is more, you cant quite see it. Frustration mingles with a profound (and explainable) lack, which in turn becomes anger at yourself and everyone around you for not being right, which leads you right back to where you started, feeling empty. That is the smallest, most inadequate description of the depression I know.

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  3. This is great. Just great. Beginning to end. And makes me realize how sad I am that our pirated Gilmore Girls got lost somewhere between moves.

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  4. I enjoy your blog and the one that posted the parenting advice you discuss. However, I couldn't help but notice the irony of your snarky comment in protest to the perceived unkindness. It's amplified by the satisfaction you seem to take in reporting your clever comeback, and in the implied moral superiority. It hardly seems like the right illustration of how to "actively enjoy people more."

    I enjoy your blog and I'm sorry you are grumpy, but this just rubbed me the wrong way.

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    1. You are absolutely right. My comment WAS snarky. By writing about it, I was, in a roundabout way, telling on myself.

      That said, I was taking issue to a way of thought, not a particular person or group of people. Hopefully I wasn't hurting anyone's feelings!

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    2. Oh -- sorry I misinterpreted your post. Thanks for clarifying :)

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    3. It always amazes me how people interpret things so differently. I had none of those feelings reading your post. And boy, can I relate to PMS. I suffered from it so horribly when I was younger. It was not pretty. It sounds like your family has learned to cope with it, as did mine. They just loved me through it all. Jenny L. (I had to pick anonymous because I can never get my google account to work).

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  5. This article might help.

    http://momastery.com/blog/2015/01/13/parenting-and-life/

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    1. Yes, I saw that article earlier. (Well, I skimmed it, to be honest.) The thing is, when hormones and chemical imbalances come into play in larger-than-normal doses, I am unable to "get over it" like she recommends. That's what's so infuriating about those time periods (pun intended, gah). Personal pits of despair aside, yes, it's great advice.

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  6. I've got no answers, but I love all these little stories, how they interact and the meandering path your thoughts are taking. You sharing a meandering path helps me meander as well, about this or other topics. Thank you!

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  7. I have the same reaction with the mother-in-law jokes! We are so cruel when we are younger, I'm thinking. I remember sitting with a bunch of moms 10 years younger than me (which happens a lot, since I still have youngish kids), and one was going on and on about how her father and her stepmother offered to babysit her children. The tone was "Can you believe how obnoxious and interfering that is?" All I could think was, "Wow, now I'll be scared to offer to babysit my grandkids."

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  8. Also, you ARE kind (or else a superb actress - take your pick). I left your house feeling as though you were genuinely interested in meeting a new person and learning all about her. I hadn't realized until then how little I talk in my day-to-day life. I seem to have been pegged as "the good friend who listens" in recent years; or, in other instances, I silence myself because I am around a lot of younger moms and don't want to scare them with any reports of the teen years. No one wants to be regarded as the "gray-haired old bat" of the homeschool park day, you know? And yes, I saw that phrase used in a homeschooling magazine once.

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    1. You, my friend, are sweet AND interesting. xoxo!

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  9. I'd say depressed people are more likely to be honest - which might be perceived as critical. All depends on the person though. I, for example, am naturally a very self-depracating person, and when I was (thankfully rather mildly) depressed that increased about tenfold. I WAS extremely critical, but not of the world, just of myself.
    The beauty, however, oh I could see the beauty of the world, or the kindness of the people, better than ever. But it was behind a glass wall. I could see it, but couldn't reach it, couldn't benefit from it. And that made it worse.

    As for PMS: try to stay off sugar! At least around the PMSy time of the month. It plays with your hormones and makes things worse. Zinc deficiency can increases PMS symptoms, too.

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  10. I get bad PMS too. It's gotten worse as I've aged. My doctor said that avoiding carbs would help. I'd much prefer to eat doughnuts instead.

    I love my MIL. She has been very helpful to me, and she actually knows a lot. She is also the most generous person I know!

    And finally, being kind is really my main goal these days. It's more work than I expected, but maybe it's not worth doing if it's easy.

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  11. Starr and Aleksandra, give up sugar AND carbs? Now I'm really depressed! You're probably right, though. Sigh.

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    1. I think that might be a case of the cure being worse than the disease. Do you drink any caffeinated beverages? Really, caffeine changes my whole outlook for the better. I swear by it.

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  12. I admire your honesty. This post is the kind of thing I talk about in person, not on my blog!

    I do not think of myself as a kind person by nature (so one of my mantras is "be kind be kind be kind") but if I rephrase that to "ENJOY this person" that might make it more concrete. Plus, I can see that being easy to do with my children who are growing so quickly and have such funny things to say sometimes.

    As for depression, when I am clinically depressed, I have no margin. Things that normally roll off me suddenly become obsessions and cause rages, tantrums, and deep despair. To "get over it" takes more energy than I have when I am depressed. So no, I am not a kinder person when I am depressed :)

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  13. This comes on just the right day. I have been struggling with the definition of kindness all week. I was yelled at by a young man at work (big, international airport) when I was sent to pick up a wheel-chair bound granny flying to Africa, alone, with a two year old. She needed the wheelchair. Badly. The two year did not want to leave with her. Clearly. It was a scene. When I clenched my jaw in consternation when I realized this granny would be doing a 14 hr journey with a toddler alone, I was told by a family member "Show some compassion and do your job!" Um...compassion for who now? the granny? the two year old? the son who wanted this whole scene over with? the other passengers on that all-night flight? the crew who would surely have to deal with someone's over-tired, diapered two year old at one point? When possible, be kind. It is always possible. And yet...

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  14. I really enjoyed that definition of kindness. I am the sort of lady who enjoys the presence of people, though most of the time I'm quite an introvert. But when I'm in the mood for it and I'm around people, it's easy for me to appreciate just being and talking and enjoying. I guess I'm considered a very nice person so maybe that's part of it.

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  15. Kindness: I think it's something like love, where, by my definition, there is choice involved (I will choose to do what's best for the other person, even when I'm not "feeling it") and also mushy-gushy-emotion stuff involved, where, yep, you enjoy/like/love them. Choosing to try to feel the feelings sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but to be kind or to be loving, you still gotta make the physical choices (I will speak kind words. I will not throw a plate at them, even though I am upset. I will invite them to sit down and will give them a biscuit.) and hopefully the feelings will come skulking in, a bit ashamed of themselves for their absence.

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  16. I just have to thank you. I do a lot of ruminating on both kindness and enjoyment - and I just happen to be re-struggling with depression as hormones rear their ugly head again now in (peri)menopause. I had never thought of the overlap and connection in the three and it means so much to me to see it from a fresh angle. Thank you. For your honesty and insight.

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