Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kill 'Em With Kindness

Mean people suck.

No shortage of unpleasantness exists in this crazy world and I am reminded daily that it takes increasingly more effort to be nice to the malcontents. My goal to take these grouches and "kill 'em with kindness" has nothing to do with needing to be their friend but everything to do with proving that I can.

I have met people who, for no apparent reason (or at least not apparent to me), are convinced that I am not worthy of existing in the same space. The kind of people who make it clear that I am not their favorite person without actually verbalizing it. I just know. I'm not talking about people I pass on the street that I'll never see again. I'm talking about a new neighbor, a friend's significant other, a teacher, etc. People that I will have to see on more than one occasion for the foreseeable future. These are my kindness targets. These folks usually have a reason to need more friends.

Now before you think I stare in my mirror every day invoking the spirit of Stuart Smalley by chanting to myself, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" this is not about self-confidence. It's just about being nice. I understand completely when someone is not nice to me because I took their parking space, unintentionally cut them off in traffic (oops) or took 13 items into the 12 items or less lane at the grocery store. I get that. I also understand that I won't have great chemistry with everyone I meet and vice versa. Fair enough.

But people who are simply sad, underappreciated or just plain gloomy, deserve to know that not everyone rides on the misery bandwagon and I, for one, would like to unearth the fragments of niceness that most likely exist. The operative word being "likely." I've made killing with kindness attempts that fail miserably. I can't win 'em all.

I have found, however, that for some of these friendships the hard work really paid off. I had a male friend in college with whom I had a completely platonic relationship. We lived right next door to each other and hung out together all the time. When his girlfriend came to visit our introduction was so chilly I thought for sure that she would break into a million shards of ice if I shook her hand too hard. She was cold. She obviously thought the relationship between her boyfriend and me was more than just platonic but she could not have been farther from the truth. She was a perfect kill with kindness target.

I would tell her stories about her boyfriend and how much he loved her, talked about her, admired her, etc. The more I told her that her boyfriend adored her, the more she realized I was not the enemy. The more we talked the more we realized we had in common. We ended up becoming great friends. We still keep in touch to this day and actually have a lot of fun reminiscing about our first awkward meetings.

I also had a new neighbor whose body language from first meeting screamed, "I intensely dislike you." She would sit with her legs and arms crossed and her body turned completely away from me. She would practically climb onto the arm of the chair she was sitting in to turn her body as far away from me as possible. In conversations she would talk to and make eye contact with everyone except me. My husband even asked me what I could have possibly done to her to make her so obviously revolted by me. I had no idea. What intrigued me, though, was the fact that she seemed very sad, just a really gloomy sort. So, I set in motion my killing with kindness endeavor and set out to get to the bottom of her disgust.

I simply said hello and waved whenever I saw her outside. I would always engage her in conversation when it was just the two of us in our backyards and ask her over for a cup of coffee or iced tea to chat for awhile. The more I listened during our conversations, the more I realized that she really just needed someone to talk to. She was very lonely. Our outside chats became more frequent and her ice cold armor continued to melt. Slowly but surely our relationship turned from scorn to admiration. We never did discuss the reason for her initial dislike because it really didn't matter. She also turned out to be a good friend.

I don't walk around every day trying to make friends with ornery people. I just believe that some people need a little extra prodding or a little more attention to warm up. I will kill them with kindness if it's necessary. I love a good challenge.

It's important to emulate kindness even in the most difficult of situations. I tell my kids all the time that it's a heck of a lot easier being nice to people than being mean. These are sometimes hard lessons to learn when we are the subject of the cruelty. But friendliness begets friendliness and the more often we kill others with kindness the more often we will reap the rewards in our own lives. It's not rocket science.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The 3-Year-Old Oath

This essay appeared in the June 2010 issue of MetroParent.

I have 3-year-old son who likes to push buttons. Not the literal kind, mind you, just the symbolic kind that drives an otherwise sane mommy a little nutty.  He not only pushes the button, he keeps his finger pressed down firmly with the strength of Hercules and the stubbornness of an uncompromising mule. This kid wants to push until he is absolutely certain his requests have been heard and honored and he has all the time in the world to wait. I'm sorry? You didn't understand his request? OK, he will repeat it 7,416 times.

Christopher has an aura about him that screams little devil. Even strangers we pass in stores will stop me and make remarks like "ah, this one is a little hard to handle, huh?" pointing to my charming boy with the impish grin. His blond hair and blue eyes alone elicit whispered comments from most passersby, but strangers who don't know even know us feel the need to comment on his apparently obvious resolve. The scary thing is they are right. His vivid, lively blue eyes hold the full story of this little boy whose determination matches no one. Except mine.

My son’s main concern in life right now is complying with his pledge to the 3-Year-Old Oath which states:  "Push parent(s) to the limit and watch seemingly sane adults slowly teeter on the brink of insanity from being asked the same question repeatedly at the highest decibel level the human voice can possibly reach." But, I have an oath too. I pledged to the Mommy Oath which states simply, "win at all costs." I am just as stubborn and optimistic as Christopher is and in no way willing to set a precedent that allows a 3-year-old to outwit, outsmart or outwait me. As a result, battles ensue and lots and lots of Christopher’s tears are shed. If we could turn tears into a viable energy source Christopher could single-handedly solve the current crisis and we would be energy-independent, like, yesterday.

Christopher is the ultimate optimist. He doesn't care if the answer is no after he asks 7,415 times. He asks again and is supremely confident the answer will be yes the 7,416 time.  It reminds me of Thomas Edison's quote, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Because Christopher feels like he inches closer to success with each repetition he has no intention of giving up and for that I give him great kudos. I know his tenacity and perseverance will serve him well later in life but I have to admit that tenacity in a 3-year-old is absolutely, positively exhausting.

Nevertheless, I love that Christopher feels confident in his quests. I love that he stands up for himself and points that little finger in the face of boys (regardless of age) who push him on the playground and tells them that they are “not nice!” I love that he says to me confidently (after many discussions on the topic) “mama, if a boy asks me to put my tongue on a frozen pole I will say no and just walk away.” I love that his determination will lead him on all kinds of great journeys. But, for now, he is learning that he has rules to follow and sometimes no just means, “because I said so.” It’s tough to be 3.

Christopher is just as amusing as he is exasperating. Sometimes I simply cannot hold a straight face when I try to stand firm with him and we both break out in enormous giggles. The crafty looks of innocence/deviousness are too hard to resist without out-and-out belly laughs.  I hope he uses his charm for the greater good when he finally realizes how much persuasion potential he actually owns.

I watched Christopher walk away from me on his way upstairs one night to brush his teeth. He was still talking a mile a minute and animatedly waving his hands.  As he turned the corner and his voice faded off in the distance a tear rolled down my face.  I realized suddenly - I am really going to miss this little boy.

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