in a world where you can be anything, be kind
I recently got an email at 3:30 a.m. from a subscriber to my blog. It was the second email I’d gotten from her, and it was filled with such harshness and contempt that it made me literally gasp out loud.
Her email was a stark reminder of a culture of meanness that has cropped up around us. It’s a meanness that is fueled by narcissism, by a wave of cynicism, an over-appreciation for snark, and by politicians and talking heads who pander to the worst parts of us. This meanness is the stuff of playground bullies, bosses who mistreat their employees, and even blog readers who tap out cruel comments in the blue glow of their computer screen, while wearing their 3:30 a.m. brave.
Meanness and narcissism hold hands. Meanness says, “What I feel matters most. I have no empathy for you. If you are in the way, I will roll you over.”
So what can we do when we are standing in the tidal wave of meanness?
1 – Allow yourself to feel the pain
We should not ignore the pain we feel. Allow yourself to sit with the pain, and acknowledge that it hurts. But don’t let the pain fuel a negative response.
2 – Refuse to seek revenge
Revenge only perpetuates the cycle of meanness set in motion by your attacker. Sometimes, we simply have to walk away from mean people, which takes a great amount of strength, dignity and courage.
3 – Be kind
We can be kind — which is not to be confused with “we will be doormats.” We shouldn’t allow people to walk all over us, but we don’t have to fight fire with fire either. We can be grace-filled, even in the face of nastiness. However, if bullies aren’t receptive toward good will, there will come a time when you must turn away, and walk toward those who will receive the kindness within you.
The Ultimate Response
Take that kindness within you, and turn it toward the hurting, the broken, the friend down the road who is going through a tough time.
Be kind also to the people who annoy you,
to the telemarketer who calls over the supper hour,
to the kid who broke your favorite lamp,
to the employee who messed up the report.
It doesn’t mean we excuse bad behavior, but it does mean that we can choose kindness, as one way to put the brakes on a cycle of meanness.
Someone once said this: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Mean is easy. The harder, braver choice? Kindness. It’s one of the most underrated virtue of our time.
What did that look like for me after I got that cruel email? I politely and briefly emailed the subscriber back. Believe me, I wanted to be mean. But I wanted this more:
I wanted the cycle of meanness to end with me.
The Power of Kindness
Earlier this week, I saw the power of kindness when my community undertook a terrific challenge to commit Random Acts of Kindness, in memory of a teenager who died in July in a car accident. That boy’s 17th birthday was Wednesday. On that day, this community could have chosen to spend the day under the covers. This community could have chosen to grieve alone, each in his or her own pain. This community could have cursed God and this mean world where car accidents take away people we love.
But instead, a whole community chose kindness.
In a world where they could be anything, they decided to be kind.
That day, we did not deny the pain in our hearts, but we refused to give into it. Led by the boy’s parents, we chose kindness. We spread kindness at fast-food counters, food pantries, mailboxes, doorsteps and more. We all could have raised our collective fists to the sky, punching angrily at the air. This culture says that’s an acceptable, even a preferred, response.
But instead of raising fists to the sky, we stood together shoulder to shoulder, and we lifted balloons to the sky. It was a startlingly beautiful and magical moment.
Our kindness won’t always change our circumstances. But it will change us.
And it will always, always make the world a more beautiful place.
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I love this… I just returned from a weekend in Seattle listening to teaching from Dan Allender… it was like drinking out of a firehouse … the one word that keeps rattling around inside me is kindness… as I let this sink deeper … I am seeing many layers… first we must be kind to ourselves … I talked so unkind to myself for years… and we give out of what we live… I am feeling kindness is much more powerful than we know… much of kindness can’t be measured… yes… there are acts of kindness done … but much of kindness is a hidden work… a response … a smile… a word… a part of the fruit of His Spirit… we can walk in kindness by His power!!! Thanks for the encouragement today!!!
Beautiful, what a great community that was to join together in something so positive, when they could have wallowed in their sadness. Mich x
Oh, a blessed amen to this, Jennifer! Kindness is the key to a world that is in a world of hurt from secular influences. Returning love in the face of hatred is exactly what Jesus told us to do, and do it, we must.
Thank you for this inspiration today, where hope and faith can meet and grow.
Good reminder Jennifer. Reminds me so much of this song by Tim McGraw, Humble and Kind. Have you heard it?
Bless your heart! I can’t imagine how anyone could think of anything to be mean to you about. I don’t understand meanness. The Lord will bless you for returning kindness! And what a great act of community kindness.
I know you didn’t share this story in order to get sympathy, but I hate that someone felt the “right” to such meanness. They really are to be pitied. It makes me sad and I am thankful that you have a firm foundation…though I know it stung!
I LOVE how your community celebrated the life of the young man! WHAT a wonderful message!!!!! I want to remember that!
Meanness, like you mentioned, has no empathy or sympathy for the other person. Great way of thinking about meanness because it keeps one from being mean in return. Like Karen says, they need to be pitied.
“Our kindness won’t always change our circumstances. But it will change us.” <—-LOVE this quote!! I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I went through an incredibly difficult season in my life and found myself being this mean woman you've described. I suppose I had reasons, but no real excuse for my behavior. Thankfully, it was only a season…and I learned from it. I agree with you that it's easy to be mean. It does, indeed, take courage and strength to choose kindness. Going through life with your dukes up is no way to find healing. Thank you so much for writing on this topic.
Jennifer, I am so sorry this happened to you. If you’re like me, one negative comment can take up more space in my brain than 99 positive ones. When that sort of thing came our way in pastoral ministry when our kids were small, we used to tell them that “hurting people hurt people,” and the only response is not to repay it in kind but, in some cases, cut off contact if the bullying continues. Meanness is often fueled by envy and deep personal unhappiness. Oh how I wish I could challenge your unkind correspondent to take the happiness dare!
‘Appreciate your observation, Jennifer, that walking away from meanness is an act of strength, dignity, and courage. We forget sometimes the power of NOT reacting. Also, thank you for sharing the heart-touching story of your community response to the death of that teen. Beautiful and inspiring. His family must have felt great support and comfort as you all honored his memory so meaningfully.
I can’t even imagine anyone wanting to be mean to YOU – Your counsel to yourself and to us is point on. People never cease to amaze me. Sometimes in not-so-good ways. ((xo)) big warm hug to you, Jennifer.
I agree with everything you have said. As others have said sometimes the only way people know how to ask for help is by being mean to others. I went from age four to age 44 at times doing this. Simply because my brain was sick from imbalances w my neurotransmitters(highly sensitive person unknown at time to not being able to cope w things so escalated into generalized anxiety disorder). I was begging for help but nothing worked not even psychiatric drugs not even my spiritual relationship w Christ . I never got better until God answered many years of prayers by others in my community, family, friends, strangers I met, and myself. God sent me two wonderful doctors who brought healing to me through balanced approach of biological, psychological, sociological, and spiritual. I use very high quality natural supplements, diet, exercise, relationships w others and God. Thank you for reaching out to the person w kindness. I use my story to help others going through the awful times to let them know God loves them and I do as well. We all could use more kindness. This brought tears to my eyes because it reminded me of how our county is rallying around 7 children who are fighting cancer. They range in age from 6 to 17 years of age. Most began w stage 4 of some type of cancer. Please pray for them and their families. To God be the glory great things he has done!
I can never understand why people choose harshness over kindness in any situation. Even at my most tired, cranky moments I do my best to put on a smile and be kind to others. I don’t nail it every time, but at least I give it my best effort. So very sorry someone sent you harsh words. But sounds like you handled it with grace!