Today I want to talk to you about kindness and the all too common idea that it is somehow connected to weakness. What do you think makes people feel that kindness and weakness are connected in the first place? If you were strolling down the street smiling at passersby in your home town would they smile back? Or would they look at you with suspicion? Would they mark you as an easy target? I think all of these possibilities and many more are true depending on where you are and who it is your smiling toward. Factors such as the respective characteristics of the two individuals passing each other can also play a vital role in how the event is perceived. How old are the two? What sex are they? Do they come from the same culture? Is it apparent what religion they practice? So many variables!
I grew up in the suburbs on the south shore of Long Island. Long Island suburbs are much different then the suburbs in the rest of the country (or so I’ve been in told). I think it has something to do with us being on an island where all major roads lead straight into New York City. As you move westward toward the city the hustle and bustle increases dramatically. The population expands until you find yourself smack dab in Chinatown packed in like sardines. So being a Long Islander requires us to be part-time suburbanites and part-time city slickers. Our lives have us moving seamlessly from one environment to the other as if native to both. You’re probably asking yourself right about now what this could possibly have to do with taking kindness for weakness… so I’ll get right to it!
Culturally Long Island has plenty of diversity. Each culture has its own stance on kindness. Living on Long Island you meet all sorts of people and it is easy to see how different peoples views often are. I’ve had friends whose parents taught them to be emotionally cold and intellectually calculating. They where taught to be tough and aggressive while reserving any show of affection, even a small kindness, to a limited few. I’ve also met people who have learned (through the instruction of others) to exploit the kindness in anyone and everyone for their personal gain. I know of people who will keep testing the boundaries of someone’s kindness and generosity until a line in the sand is drawn. This perspective; that everyone and everything is a resource to be culled, is indicative of a life of limited resources and desperation. It grows out of the human drive to survive and thrive no matter what the odds.
This type of behavior is commonplace here in New York. Especially in the economically depressed sections. Parents and elder relatives teach the next generation to exploit every opportunity for personal gain.
Our worldview is formed according to our experiences. In an environment with less resources competition is commonplace. This worldview, that we must compete for scraps and be constantly on defense in a hostile environment, justifies the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that center around the exploitation of others (especially those who exhibit kindness and are deemed; ‘easy targets’). Being street smart in New York is often synonymous with an understanding and acceptance of this skewed worldview.
I have chosen to acknowledge that many possess such a worldview- but I will never accept it as my own.
When the world is viewed as a cold dark place with potential threats all around, we can either become victims or perpetrators. If we believe absolutely that the world and everything in it is hostile then we have no remorse in acting hostile and aggressive.
In a dog eat dog world aggression is preferable to being eaten. Unfortunately this skewed worldview is a self-reinforcing cycle of aggression, victimization, and back to aggression. We all share in the cycle as we pass from victim to justified aggressor and back again to victim.
Children who grow up in tough neighborhoods that are infested with this worldview are at first the unwitting victims. They enter the world, as all children do, looking to love and live only to be easy marks for the older kids who’ve been indoctrinated into this perceived reality of the world. The traumas they face become the very reasons they believe in a worldview that promotes the very same thoughts and behaviors that led to their victimization in the first place. Round and round it goes.
Believing kindness is weakness is a direct result of a skewed worldview. Weakness is seen as an ignorance to the way things really are. Words like naive and stupid are used to describe a kind person. A street smart mind will rationalize ways to exploit kindness for personal gain. This is happening everywhere and all the time across the world wherever resources are scarce (and many places they are not but the worldview is promoted). In the western world the mind-scape of humanity is being manipulated through mass media outlets to believe in a worldview that aligns with this false reality and contradicts the true nature of humanity. Just listen to popular song lyrics or follow along the storyline in an HBO series.
I am a very generous person with a compassionate heart. I have learned to give freely or not to give it all. This is not to say that I allow myself to be taken advantage of. If someone asks of me and I give only to be asked again and again I have no shame in saying no. I also have no shame in explaining to them that when I give it is a choice, not a requirement. And I think that is the difference between kindness with actual weakness and kindness without. Kindness is not a requirement but a choice.
If we approach life feeling that we must be kind in all circumstances we will inevitably be taken advantage of. There will always be those out there who will test the boundaries. If there are no boundaries we will be over run. That doesn’t mean that we cannot choose to be kind to everyone we meet. We can keep ourselves from subscribing to a destructive worldview while treating others kindly as long as we are aware that there are those out there looking to take advantage of our kindness. Be strong, be safe, and be kind to everyone you meet- but never allow them to exploit you.
As usual thanks for stopping by!!
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