Consistency. This is an attribute that has eluded me the first nearly four decades of my life. My husband on the other hand, wears it like a fine Italian suit. He is consistently kind, consistently generous and consistently present, and he looks good doing it. But to be perfectly honest, sometimes his consistency drives me crazy. I want a little passion, some fire, something that mimics my own inconsistencies.
The issue for me becomes that I start to dwell on what I am not getting from him versus what I am, and when that happens, I have a tendency to be unkind. I am edgier, not as thoughtful, I fail to appreciate his small gestures of love, and I am altogether not as lovely to live with. My efforts of kindness get diluted by our proximity. I sacrifice kindness on the altar of selfishness, and everyone gets burned because of it.
This self-realization is the product of being on the receiving end of some negative feedback recently (read that as social media) which got me wondering. Wondering about kindness and if criticism and judgement are the curses of our generation? My friend Jason encouraged me to turn these questions inward, and to be honest, I am not proud of what I found. I am guilty of the very same things that hurt me the most. I am impatient, and often assume the worst, but the one that hurts the worst is the realization that sometimes I am kinder to people I don’t know than I am to the ones who I love the most in the entire world. It got me wondering if perhaps the solution to more kindness in the world is more kindness toward my inner circle.
A conversation with my friend Shaunti Feldhahn woke me up to this truth a few months ago. She was sharing about her research on resiliency, and what she found is that our individual sense of well-being is not determined by how kind others are to us, it is directly dependent on how kind we are to others.
Without a doubt the answer is more kindness. It is a scientific fact, Shaunti says so. Kindness just might heal the world. It also might make our own hearts and homes just a bit more habitable.
So in an attempt to change my small corner of the world, this is where I am going to be focusing my kindness:
Extraordinary Kindness Toward Myself
Jen Hatmaker once said she realized that when she is being unkind, it was usually because she was in a bad place herself. This is the most profound truth I’ve heard this year. When I am in a cycle of self-condemnation, swirling in a shame storm about my flaws; that is typically when I start projecting those same feelings onto others. When I am really ugly to others, it usually means I am being ugly to myself first. My commitment is to work on developing a less adversarial relationship with myself, because when that happens, I will find less adversaries in the world, and that means there is more kindness to go around.
Extraordinary Kindness Toward My Kids
I visited my mom a few weeks ago, and she reminded me of some of the embarrassing phases I went through as a kid. There’s nothing like reliving your childhood to remind you to extend a little more kindness to your own kids. Because being a kid is not easy. Learning to use your own voice and feel your own feelings, learning to navigate the world and skinning your knee and being told when to go to bed and what to eat, that stuff is hard. You know what makes all of it a little easier? Kindness. Kind words and soft touches, quick forgiveness and slowing down. Kindness is the balm that soothes childhood fears. So, I commit to more kindness with my kids. Frustration will not be the boss of me, instead slow, steady kindness will define my days.
Extraordinary Kindness Toward My Husband
I resolve to show my husband far more kindness than I have offered lately. It is time to let him off the hook, especially in the ordinary details of life, and instead extend kindness with appreciation, thoughtful words and hand holding. I will absolve him from unmet expectations and will let kindness untangle our miscommunication.
I know of a woman who started keeping a journal of all of the things she loved about her husband. She started it because she was tired of unintentionally critiquing him, and instead wanted a daily practice that nurtured her appreciation of him. The first thing on the list was, “I like the way he folds his socks and puts them in his drawer.” It was the only thing she could think of. But as the days went by, her list got longer and longer. A week into the list-keeping, she shared it with her husband and he sobbed, moved by her thoughtfulness. Sometimes it takes energy to muster up kind efforts, but kindness never goes to waste. Because that is true, I will weave kind words for my husband into every day for the next two weeks.
There is a lot at stake in the world, wars are raging, unimaginable evil is occurring to innocent people, social media is filled with cruel words and we are all wondering, what can we do? Here is what I think: I have gone to enough therapy to learn that changing anyone or anything starts with changing myself. So perhaps the resurgence of kindness that we want to see begins with a resurgence of kindness toward ourselves, then toward the person we wake up next to and the children we get to nurture. May our small, consistent gestures spark burning wildfires of kindness. This is our opportunity, sisters. If we each infuse our small worlds with kindness, can you imagine the ripples that will occur throughout the entire globe we all call home? May kindness lead …
Mandy Arioto is a mom of three who continually wonders when she became old enough to raise other human beings. Mandy’s new book Starry-Eyed: Seeing Grace in the Unfolding Constellation of Life and Motherhood was released on August 30. Order it now on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble online. She’ll also be on tour with JJ Heller in cities all across the country this fall. Check out mandyarioto.com for tickets and dates.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.