I’ve Been Thinking About Kindness a Lot Lately. Really, I’d Say It’s All I Think About Anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. Kindness and strangers. Kindness and kids. Kindness and politics. Kindness and cages. Kindness and marriage. Kindness and sex. Kindness and time. Kindness and self. And kindness and how to push more into the universe like a brilliant shaft of light from my belly, Care Bear style. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. I loaded my groceries into my car in the hot parking lot the other day. My car is black. The interior is black. The asphalt was black. Heat was radiating from every direction. My kid and I were soaked in sweat by the time we loaded the last bag. As I grabbed the cart to put it away, a woman pulled into the spot next to me, and I realized, walking back, that she was parked so close it would be impossible to open my door and slide into my seat without hitting her car. No problem, though, because she was still in her seat, so I went over to her and said, “Hey — any chance you can move your car a little? I can’t get into mine.” There was an empty spot in front of her to pull straight into, as well as one on the other side of her, so I figured no big deal, right? 

Wrong.

She said, “Nope.” Clipped. Clearly pissed. And I thought, weird, but whatever. I figured I could just explain.

”It’d be a big favor if you could, even just a little. I just need to slip into my car.”

Fuck you,” she said, “I’m parked inside the lines. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

And, I mean, she was right. She was parked inside the lines. There was nothing I could do about it. She hopped out of her car, got her two kids out, and walked toward the store. 

Now, there’s a part of me that wanted to tell her off. You know, YELL ABOUT KINDNESS at her. Tell her what an UNKIND EXAMPLE she was to her kids. That she should MOM better and HUMAN better. That there’s a thing called COMMON COURTESY, and she should shop for that inside the store since she was clearly out

But there was a bigger part of me that didn’t want to do that at all. There was a bigger part of me that felt genuinely devastated for her that that’s all she had available in her heart for a stranger. That that’s how on edge she was. That that’s the kind of anger she was, at least for the moment, harboring inside. 

The urge to tell her off was minuscule in comparison, because I’ve had moments when I had nothing left to give, too. When I was exhausted and overwhelmed. When I was grieving and despairing beyond what I thought I could handle. And while I probably would’ve moved my car for the stranger — while I probably would’ve saved my vitriol for my family (lucky them) — it would’ve taken an ENORMOUS amount of energy, you know? Like a massive Herculean effort. There are times in my life when my marriage was in the crapper and my mental health was in rapid decline and my children were young and incessantly needed everything, and moving my car after I managed to park it would’ve felt IMPOSSIBLE. Gathering breath was hard enough. Doing a task I’d already done? Parking twice? Unfathomable. 

So I said to her retreating back, “You parked inside the lines. I need you to know I’m not suggesting you did anything wrong. I was just asking for a favor.” And I wanted to add, “I hope you have a better day,” but I didn’t know how to make those words sound sincere, the way I meant them, instead of snide and sarcastic, so I kept them to myself, and went around to the passenger’s side to crawl across the console and shoehorn myself into my seat, thinking I may perhaps need to lay off the Cheetos and do more yoga so I have less mass and more flexibility to achieve that feat in the future. 

As I was working my way into my seat, she turned around and yelled, “I’m fucking hot, and I’m fucking tired, and it’s fine if you hit my car with your door so you can get in; I do not fucking care.” And I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think she meant it as an apology. I really do. I think if she’d had a minute to think and maybe not a hundred bajillion other things on her mind and in her heart, and if she had maybe an iced coffee and someone to remind her she’s doing enough and being enough, she’d have said it like, “I’m tired, friend. I’m so, SO tired. And this heat is killing me dead. And I have these small humans consuming me. And I cannot move my car. I CAN’T, even though I know it’s a totally reasonable request. But you can dent my car. It’s OK. Do what you need to do. Solidarity, momrade. Over and out. And, also, send help.”

My kid and I drove home, and all the way we talked about kindness and strangers and how you never know what interactions you might get, and how you get to choose your own reaction, always. There’s power in choosing kindness — maybe even more so when it’s not the obvious choice — and there’s power in letting mean words go even though that’s hard because we’re better at dwelling on them. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. I’ve been thinking about the evangelical church and its unholy marriage to the Republican Party which has resulted in a baffling loyalty to Trump and defense of his brutality to the weakest among us — children and asylum seekers.  I’ve been thinking about the resounding accusations I regularly receive that I’m unkind to fundamental and evangelical Christians, with whom I once belonged, when I call out their cruelty via political allegiances or exclusion of marginalized people. And I’ve been thinking constantly about where my loyalty belongs.

I think about kindness and kids. And kindness and politics. And kindness and cages. And the fact that Jesus’ shining example was refusing to kowtow to the rules-based faith of his time, turning away again and again and again and again from the religious establishment in favor of the vulnerable. I’ve been thinking about political systems that reward callousness and self-preservation and wealth accumulation above equality and justice. I’ve been thinking about my words and how I use them and how critically important it is not to confuse being “nice” with being kind. I’ve been thinking about my words and how I use them and how critically important it is to champion compassion over cruel power paradigms, which is kind even if it’s not always nice.

I used to believe the old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and so, in the face of injustice, I was quiet. I was “polite.” I was “civil.” And I was, as a result, actively supporting the oppressors and harming the oppressed.

Now I believe something different.

Now, nice isn’t the measuring stick. Now, I’m kind of horrified it ever was.

Now, I ask myself other questions, like: If you don’t have anything nice to say, is it necessary to say anyway? Is it just? Does it protect the marginalized? Does it help someone vulnerable know they’re not alone? Does it lift up the fallen? Does it shelter the weak? Does it amplify the voices of those who are shunned or shamed? If my silence benefits those in power at the expense of those who are hurting — even if that silence is what I was taught was “nice” — then it’s unkind to keep quiet. Wrong. Unloving. Harmful. And I won’t do it anymore because kindness is bigger than nice. Better. Fiercer. More wild and free. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. Greg was away on a business trip last week, and he posted a goofy pic of himself on Facebook. 

“One of my favorite things to do at a conference is use this profile picture  for my badge,” he wrote. “It breaks the monotony for the session attendance scanners and makes for a good icebreaker.”

It was cute — and I enjoy New Greg who’s SO much more confident being himself in recent years —but you know what I really noticed when I looked at that photo? Greg wearing a “my pronouns: he/him” on his shirt. 

He told me there was a vendor booth at the conference with a bowl of pins so folks could note their pronouns in order to facilitate full inclusion for all attendees. He wore his the whole week in solidarity and to normalize sharing pronouns upon meeting new people. Kindness in a pin.

And so I thought about kindness and marriage… and then about how kindness affects sex, because DAMN IT’S HOT to be inclusive and to welcome all humans well. HOTTER than hot. The HOTTEST, really.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. And I thought about it a lot on Friday night when my oldest kid and her boyfriend and my middle kid were in a car accident. 

Not their fault. Hit from behind. Shook up pretty good — physically and emotionally — and still dealing with the fallout.

Through a stroke of luck, Greg and I were nearby and able to be there a few minutes after it happened. We did all the usual parental things. Made sure our people were OK. Went to the ER for All the Tests and Scans and Images and Instructions. Took care of paperwork and insurance info. Got the car — totaled, we’ve been told — to the collision center and figured out alternate transportation. And of course, all of it was an opportunity to practice kindness.

But the biggest kindness we got to offer was to the other driver. Y’all, he was young and earnest and so, so sorry. A second of inattention, and WHAM, he hit them. He owned it. He apologized a dozen times (which they say not to do, but I think “they” are NUTS.) And he was also kind of lost. Like, he had all his insurance cards and documents in his hands when we arrived, and he said, “I don’t know what to do next.” 

I held onto his shoulder and asked if he was OK. (Yes.) I told him what I tell my kids… it’s all going to be OK because no one died, and we can fix anything except dead. (He nodded.) I told him I’d been in his position before and it SUCKS and I was so sorry he was going through this. (He said it had been an exceptionally crappy day.) And then, in between checking on our people, I walked him through next steps… photograph our info, call your insurance, file an accident report at the DMV, BREATHE IN AND OUT, remind yourself that you’re human like the rest of us, forgive yourself for your lapse, let the insurance companies do their job, and pay the kindness forward like I got to do because someone at an accident scene that was fully my fault was once kind to me

So, yeah. I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. About how to be kind to others even when they’re not kind to me. About what true kindness looks like when it means championing the hurting and broken-hearted and not just shutting up. About how kindness is a turn-on. About the ways I need to practice kindness to myself so I can readily give it away. About how to model it for my kids. And about how to forgive myself when I fall far short of the kindness bar.

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness lately. Really, I’d say it’s all I think about anymore. In one way or another. And I think you are, too. I think kindness is on the move.

With love, as always, and waving in the dark,

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
38 comments
  1. This was a tearing article. Bless your kindness and thank you for this post. It has reminded me to be kind, sometimes it can be easy to forget how others perceive our actions and think solely on the selfishness of our emotions. Have a blessed day Beth!

  2. I’m not a religious person…Actually, that’s my way of easing “mixed” company into the fact that I’m an atheist. But I’ve found wisdom in all kinds of places. Many, maaaany years ago, I stumbled across a book by the Dali Lama. I don’t remember which one. He was talking about how many people in western culture have become isolated. How this loss of emotional connection to each other can be painful to individuals and also problematic in how we respond to so many societal problems.

    He said he believe that the most important thing we can do to preserve civilization, is to “practice compassion in everyday life.” Practice compassion. In everyday life. Compassion towards your spouse, your children, your family, yourself. Compassion to strangers on the elevator and in hot parking lots. Compassion for those who do good things and compassion for those who do terrible things. Compassion for those you understand and for those you don’t understand.

    Wow! That one has stuck with me. And sometimes it really does take “practice!” It can be hard for all kinds of reasons. Certainly, when some one is flinging bile at you
    it is sooo easy to fling bile right back at them. But the day and the world and life are so, so, sooo much better when we manage to respond with kindness and compassion.

    Your are right too, that it is always a choice of how we respond. Let’s all keep “thinking about kindness and compassion.” Let’s practice it… in everyday life:)

  3. You made me cry again Beth!! Gah and well done and oh my goodness all the feelings. You opened me up again – you’re right, you’re right – perhaps she couldn’t park again and perhaps that *was* sorry. And I’m so glad you helped the young man with his insurance. I too have been on the receiving end of kindness when it *was* my fault and I said sorry a million times. Thanks lovely lady. “Ouch” with you at life and the world. But kindness. Yes.

  4. I hope all the kids continue to be okay. Bless you for your kindness to the other driver!

  5. Kindness. Yes. And also giving grace to others who might be dealing with awfulness we know nothing about, and being kind regardless of how they treat us. I like to think I do this decently in person, but I’m still learning how to respond with kindness when someone comments on my facebook page, where I write about cages and children and decency but the person responds that the kids weren’t actually unaccompanied (this from a Christian, you can guess what news channel is watched). Obviously I still have plenty of anger.
    Thank you for the reminder about kindness and kindness and kindness and kindness.

  6. ❤️

  7. Love. Love. Love. Thank you.

  8. I was popped over here by a link from a FB friend and I just needed to say how much I needed to read this today. Thank you so much for writing so eloquently on a topic that my brain goes around and around on ever day.

  9. Beth,

    I love you! There are so many gems in this blog entry today! I read silently and cried out loud.

    Thank you for being you!

    Sprinkle Kindness Everywhere!

  10. Thank you Beth

  11. Last name got my Hubby brought home ice cream. He brought home ice cream because he literally can not go to the grocery store and return without ice cream. It’s very cute and the love it. My waistline, not so much. He brought home ice cream for us as the kids are away and he was so excited to show me the ice cream. Like a little kid, all smiles. The container had a unicorn on it and I love unicorns and so he was thrilled to get that for me. But then as he was checking out the info he saw that not only was there a unicorn, but it was called “Big GAY Ice Cream” and he thought that was absolutely fantastic. He didn’t just buy one, nope, we are stocked up with Big Gay Ice Cream and he was so pleased with himself. And it was thoughtful and kind. It was beautiful and sexy. It took nothing away and gave so much more. And we know our kids are going to love it too. Like the pin – acceptance – kindness – grace – it’s awesome!

    1. I love this! Thank you for sharing!

  12. So a facebook friend shared your blog on kindness~ you said what I think about so often also. I found when I was listening to the Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu on my drive to work I thought more about kindness. (Highly recommend this book.) I also think a lot about kindness, and sometimes feel like it my job to teach manners to others. I moved from the midwest to the Boston area. Speaking to strangers isn’t as widely accepted, but I decided to do it anyway when riding public transportation. I made a few new friends doing that. I also discovered when I would give up my seat for another there was a ripple effect by others. YES, we all need more kindness and the kindness you shared with the woman in the car was big and your children witnessed your behavior that’s huge. Sending love your direction!

  13. I always love your amazing writing. Again, this is profound and entertaining.
    Can I kindly ask you to please not lump people into categories? I think you know it is more complicated than that.
    Also, what have I missed that I don’t know about pronoun buttons? It seems counterintuitive that they are kind.

    1. Hey Raelene, here is a an organizer’s guide to using pronoun buttons at an events: https://dev.to/sublimemarch/an-organizers-guide-to-pronoun-buttons-afb

      I hope that it is helpful in explaining why using pronoun buttons can be a kindness.

      I am curious about your request to not lump people into categories. Could you please list a specific example, and explain why this example bothers you? I’m baffled by the request and interested in understanding it.

      Thanks,
      Ariel

  14. Thank you, Beth. Good words for today.

  15. Recently I have discovered that being the only grownup in the room means being the only kind person in the room. That was a revelation. Nice call on the parking lot lady. Because you just never know.

  16. So much of what I’ve been dealing with. All the things are just right there, ready to go spinning off, and trying to be nice and kind and keep them spinning…it’s for the birds. But here I am. Spinning away. And waving. With my coffee. Because it is going to be a long weekend of spinning.

  17. So so so good. Thank you for these words today.

  18. As always, waving back. Thank you for reminding us (me) that we never know what someone else is going through.

  19. you *always* refresh my faith and my heart. thank you so much.

  20. Thank you for this! I had a training on Nonviolent Communication recently, and it says that everyone is always saying please or thank you, no matter what words come out (I don’t totally agree with this, but do agree it’s a lot of what we say). Stopping to think about what people might actually need when I think they are saying something rude or hostile or drive like idiots has been such a helpful tool to start to develop. And trying to think about what I really need before I get whiny or sarcastic has been helpful too. I have felt so calm for the past two weeks. But we did agree that we don’t have to try to think about what people like Mitch McConnell and trump really want, and I haven’t been calm about them…just my own personal life. Which brings me to my next point…I am sure my friends wish I would keep my political stuff to myself, but is it kindness to do that? I agree with you that it is better to be kind than nice. Lots to think about this morning. Thanks again!! And I’m so glad no one was hurt in the accident.

  21. I just love you. That is all.

  22. I’ve never commented on someone’s blog but your words ring 100% with everything I’ve been feeling and not knowing how to put into words. I will be sharing with my friends and family. Thank you.

  23. Thank you for this!

  24. This! All of this. You’ve covered all of the things. Thank you for putting everything I’ve been mling over into words (former evangelical).

    1. *mulling (oops!)

  25. What an amazing read, you have a heart as big as the ocean Beth! Thank you for reminding me to be kind, it’s not always easy but I will try my best.

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