This week, we’re diving back into broad attitudes that can make life better right now.
I’ve come to a point in my life where my previous techniques of living no longer work.
Those “just work harder and then you’ll succeed” techniques. Those “self-prioritization is most important” techniques.
These strategies seem to work on the surface.
Hard work = success.
Self-care = peace.
But I just haven’t found these things to be 100% true. I can get so caught up in these “solutions” that I forget to see other people. And care about what they’re going through. And be available for support.
Today, I want to focus more on some interpersonal-based strategies that I believe will help me shift my priorities from “self” to “others.” And in doing so, help me lead a better, more fulfilling life.
Be Gentle With Yourself and Others
As I consider my schedule for this coming semester, I’m struck by how badly I commit myself to activities.
This semester, I have a packed schedule. I’ll almost always leave my apartment at 8:30 am and stay on campus until at least 5:30pm. Throughout the day, I’ve very carefully crammed my jobs around my classes so that I have just enough time for lunch and no time for homework.
I’m not gentle with myself. I keep pushing and pushing until the limit is far, far behind me.
Yet, we all know this type of effort isn’t sustainable. People who press forward, regardless of warnings signs from everyday life to slow down, end up drained, burnt out, and/or stagnate.
I’ve definitely been there before. 2021 was the year of writer’s burnout. I’ve only recently found love in writing again. I’ve also felt drained as a student, friend, and family member simply because I go too fast.
What would it look like to treat yourself with gentleness?
For me, it means taking a step back from my crazy school load, unreachable goals, and mental health struggles. It means taking a moment just to breathe and find balance in something simple.
Last Monday, I didn’t have school, so I spent an hour reading in a hammock instead.
Even that simple pause gave me so much life. It reminded me that gentleness feels good. That it’s so much better to be still and commit to relaxation than try to hurtle through life like I’m behind schedule.
But even more than that moment of gentleness for myself, it’s good to be gentle with other people.
I invited a friend to go hammocking with me. I wanted to hammock for a few hours, but we both kept dragging our feet and shortening the amount of time we had left.
I could’ve been frustrated, but instead I chose gentleness. It’s better to recognize that people don’t always fit in the prescribed plan than to be upset that the plan keeps falling apart.
It’s better to act and think with gentleness, rather than heavy feelings like frustration or annoyance or anger, because that gentleness will make any situation better – even if it isn’t an ideal scenario.
I only got to hammock for an hour. But if I was frustrated that I couldn’t hammock for longer due to scheduling issues, I wouldn’t have found as much rest.
Pursue Goodness in All You Do, Everyday
What even is “goodness?”
Does goodness mean being kind, even when you don’t want to? Being nice to people you dislike? Politely telling someone you aren’t frustrated when they’re late?
At some point, we seem to mix up “goodness” with “fake niceness” and struggle to distinguish the two.
A former friend of mine used to tell me she had a really good “fake nice” voice. And I had gotten to know her so well that I could tell when she was using it. She’d smile widely and carry a conversation like she didn’t want to be anywhere else, but the moment the person she disliked was out of sight, that façade would melt off her face.
Yet, most people seemed to like her a lot. She was fun to be around. She was easy to talk to.
But how much of that was simply being nice because she didn’t know what else to do?
I think general goodness runs deeper than “just being nice”.
In every action, genuine goodness means recognizing the value of others, even if they irritate you. It means that, on the basis that someone somewhere deeply cherishes them, I must also be good to them, even if “cherish” isn’t the word I would use.
It also means that in the pursuit of goodness, everything must be done with a genuine heart leaned toward bettering those around you.
For me, fear often gets in the way of simply being good. I don’t want to start a conversation with a person I don’t know in class because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m not thinking of it in terms of whether it would brighten that person’s day to have a conversation.
If the tables were turned, I would love for a random person in class to start a conversation with me. My schedule is so go-go-go that I hit 4 PM and realize I never had a real conversation with anyone. Sure, I participated in class a few times. But I never got a chance to talk for fun – even if that fun conversation consisted of “what’s your major?”
What if instead of floating through a day just trying to be a good person, we started each day with the mission of simply being good in every moment – bringing light to others, inviting joy into every conversation, and confidently pursuing opportunities to be a blessing to other people?
Have a Genuinely Kind Heart in Every Interaction
“Being nice” doesn’t mean you’re being kind.
When you’re “just being nice”, you’re treating someone the way they ought to be treated, even though you don’t really agree. In your heart, you dislike them, or they are annoying, or you don’t want to hurt their feelings.
What does it mean to be genuinely kind?
I’m really, really good at “just being nice.” I can even remember someone’s worth and attempt to be a light in their life because of it, but that doesn’t mean I’m being kind.
Kindness takes many form.
It could be a form of niceness. Clearly, being rude and mean all day could never be considered kind. But “niceness” breaks down the moment we start to thinking the other person doesn’t “deserve” that treatment.
Kindness also takes the form of forgiveness. And patience. And mercy.
It’s giving other people second chances. And being patient when navigating personality differences. And racing to forgive when you have every right to “get back at them” for what they did wrong.
Kindness is also found in telling the truth. In telling the truth well – meaning full, unambiguous truth with the opportunity for the other person to respond.
Some days, I wish more than anything that my former friend who ended our friendship last March would’ve been more kind about the situation.
Perhaps the worst unkindness I ever felt was being told I was a bad friend without any details of what I had done wrong. It would have been a kindness to clearly communicate her hurt. It could’ve been a misunderstanding. I could’ve legitimately done something hurtful without realizing it. But instead of having that opportunity to understand and respond, she didn’t offer that kindness, as if that kindness would have undermined her determination to end the friendship.
Even in sticky situations where kindness doesn’t feel like an option – in a breakup, in a serious argument, in the last straw moments before the end of a relationship – kindness is always an option.
I think especially when the other person is hard to love, it’s important to center all interaction on genuine kindness.
What is best for them? In what ways could I include empathy into my communication? How can I leave any and every situation knowing I treated the other person well?
While writing this article, gentleness, kindness, and goodness kept mixing in my head.
They all kind of feel the same. To be gentle is to be kind. To be kind is to be good. Around and around and around in a circle.
But these are my main points:
Gentleness means giving grace to yourself and others.
Goodness means being a light to others.
Kindness means recognizing the other person and treating them with empathy.
I’ll see ya’ll in two weeks, with the final part of this three part series.