The only things I really want to ingrain into my kids are compassion, kindness and tolerance. If they want to become world-renowned physicists? Cool. If they decide to wait tables at the local Swiss Chalet? A-ok. If they’re not sporty or can’t paint a picture or don’t want to speak in public, whatever, that’s fine. But if they can’t bring themselves to treat another person with respect? I draw the line. More than anything, I believe in the importance of treating others with respect, owning our mistakes and apologizing when we cross lines, and being a decent human.
I want them to hold the door open for people, to pick up litter, to smile at strangers and care when someone has tears in their eyes. I want them to include the kids who are alone, and empathise with the ones who are hurting and lash out. I’d like them to see the world as their community and want to care for it. I want to live in a world where we can be different but still be friends; is that too idealistic? I don’t know. Maybe.
We live in a world free of borders and restrictions thanks to the internet. We’re able to sit behind our screens and type the first things that pop into our heads without having to watch the ripples those words may cause as they travel out from our fingers. Sometimes these ripples cause great goodness, and other times they cause hurt. We hold the power to ensure our words do only good things, and I want our kids to know that, too. There was a time when I blogged carelessly, throwing my (often strong) opinions out and refusing to engage with those who disagreed. I was proud of my “honest to a fault” attitude, which in the end was really just code for, “I’m an insensitive bitch”. It was when I really took stock of how those words made others feel, and how I’d feel in their shoes, that I realized that’s not the person I wanted to be. That wasn’t me.
My husband taught me that just because something is rooted in truth, doesn’t mean it must be said. I might be overweight, but that doesn’t give you license to call me fat. I might not like your sweater, but is that a good reason to tell you it’s ugly? And I might not agree with you but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to put you down or cause you any shame. It has taken me at least 15 years to understand that I can be a strong person without stepping on toes; that I can have a different opinion without diminishing someone else’s; that I can make mistakes, own up to them, and it isn’t a sign of weakness. It takes a lot of strength to own our actions, doesn’t it? It takes a lot of experience to recognize that true strength is found in kindness and gentleness.
This week has been an interesting one in my online community. I’ve seen feelings hurt, and had my own hurt, too. I was called a bully for defending myself when someone said some incorrect (and disparaging) things about me and then got upset when I wasn’t eager to accept a false apology. I’ve read too many apologies from insincere people and noticed how those work to shrivel confidence and kill relationships. (There will never be an occasion when, “I’m sorry, but…” is an appropriate apology.) I’ve lost respect, found respect and most of all, gained much-needed perspective.
Our words and actions matter. The power of a sincere apology goes a long way in mending hurt feelings. Kindness should trump whatever your view of “honesty” may be when someone’s feelings are on the other side of the scale. We all make errors in judgement on occasion, that’s ok. Taking ownership of them and mending rifts is what matters in the end. Empathy and compassion are in short supply, and we need them more than ever.
My words for this Friday are simple: