Be the Lady in the Minivan You Want to See in the World

I had a rough week a few weeks ago. My Stuff just got so big and I had a hard time dealing.

This is just part of my process. I know what to do, and I know who my people are (I have a lot of people). So it’s going to be ok. I want to tell you a story though.

One of the Things I Can Do is to go to yoga class. Because having someone remind you to breathe for an hour straight is SO HELPFUL when it feels like you’ve forgotten how. So I took myself to a yoga class at Abide Yoga because I called them the morning after a bad night and had approximately this conversation with H, Yoga Studio Owner and Kind Phone Speaker:

K: Do you have any yoga that’s good for….anxiety….? I mean, I’ll be ok but right now I’m just…ugh…
H: Yes. Please come here.
K: Are you sure? I might cry. I’ll try to be quiet though. Because yoga.
H: Just come here. It’ll be ok.

So I did. After an hour of steady reminders (I did cry, and it was ok), I felt like I could breathe well again. I headed home in my van.

There’s a neighborhood I cut through to avoid the lights on the main streets by my house. I arrived at an intersection where there is no light, but it’s close to another light which was red and cars were lined up. I began to edge into the street to turn left.

A lady in a metallic blue jeep laid on the horn and started yelling at me through her open windows. “What the F*%< do you think you’re doing? STOP!” For her sake, I kind of hope she was just having a terrible day. But I digress.

I was…caught off guard. I called out feebly, “But…the light is red…” She was not convinced. She continued to yell while pulling directly in front of me and sitting there, middle finger extended angrily, until several seconds after her light turned green. Then she pulled away.

What the what?! I thought…but then I looked at the lady in the grey minivan behind her, who had watched the whole thing. She shrugged at me, gave me a kind smile, and waved at me to go in front of her.

I drove home, bemused.

I went back to yoga that afternoon because Abide was having a special day of free yoga for their first anniversary, because my husband is awesome and played with our kids all day, and because I still needed to remember to breathe more. After class was over, I told them the story and said, “Thank you for being the lady in the van today.”

Sometimes the world seems full of stress. It feels like one big middle finger. Ladies in metallic blue jeeps will yell at you, figuratively (and sometimes literally!) speaking. But if you look hard, after that, you can often find well-placed acts of loving kindness. A glass of water. A kind word from a friend or stranger. A yoga class. If you are stressed or otherwise unwell I hope for those things for you, and I hope you are given the grace to see them. It really makes all the difference.

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Míliath: on Kindness and the People Nearest to Us

I’m tired of reading children’s books that endorse that idea that brothers and sisters being awful to each other all the time is just a fact of life.

I’m realistic enough to be clear that they need to learn to work things out with one another, and that the friction between siblings is a useful and important part of the process. But within that reality, I think I can help my children to learn to disagree (discuss, argue, and yes, fight…) well. It’s tricky, but I think it’s possible. In fact, I think the skill of working out differences graciously is one of the most important relational tools I can give them.

Family relationships ought to be a safe space for children and grown-ups to be other than their best, to have their big feelings, and to feel accepted for who they are. However, I think this is often conflated with a somewhat lazy approach to relationships “I can be a jerk to them, they have to love me anway.” There is some basis for this belief. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. I also don’t like the implied, “so I don’t even have to try to be kind,” that too naturally follows on that train of thinking.

What if our daily family life together can be the very setting for us to practice all the virtues we read about or hear about? Peace, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control….keeping these abstracted away as ideas reserved for “out in the world” makes them much more likely to be practiced only occasionally. But what if our close relationships are the exact places we should be using as a safe space to practice being good to other people? What if my children are, in fact, capable of receiving and growing kindness within them, if I can just sow it carefully?

We are not perfect people. Weeds like selfishness, angry shouting, and other unkindnesses are a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. That’s how you end up with a garden choked with weeds.

With that in view, we are studying kindness this week. We’re making trips to the library to learn about it. We’re studying what wise people have said about it. We’re defining what it means to us personally, and how we can recognize and practice it in our lives. As an attempt to highlight kind actions when we recognize them, we are exclaiming “míliath!” whenever we witness a kind action. Míliath means “kindnesses” (in Sindarin, because why not?).

What has worked to help you to promote kindness within your home or important relationships?

GM courtesy brown

Kind over Nice

It was freshman year, and time for our Thursday night Real Life meeting for Campus Crusade for Christ. The guys across the hall from my dorm room started gathering up people to head over in a big herd (when you’re a freshman in college and away from home for the first time it’s comforting to do things in herds).

“Is K coming?” said one of my fellow Crusaders.

“Uhh, I don’t know….Katie, why don’t you go knock on her door and see?”

I trotted off down the hall and knocked on K’s door, bible in hand and sure she was just running late. She’d come with us for the first few weeks of the year, after all.

*Knock, knock.* “Hi! Are you coming to Crusade tonight?”

Her face flashed with anger. “NO!” She said quite firmly and shut the door hard in my face.

 

I was sitting at the Oxley cafe a couple of days later for a sandwich when K came and sat down next to me.

“I’m sorry I slammed the door in your face. I just…can’t go there anymore.”

“Oh! Ok. Why not?”

“It’s just…the church is made up of people, and it’s not supposed to be perfect and cookie cutter and…” She explained herself for a while, and eventually realized I was completely lost.

“Look. Katie, you’re smart. You can figure out how to be what they want, and say what they want you to say. You can make them like you. The question is, do you want to?”

***

It took 14 years, but I think I am finally beginning to unpack what she meant.

At the time, it wasn’t true in the least. I had no idea how to make people like me. I didn’t feel like other people’s approval had anything at all to do with me.

The thing is, K’s correct. At this point, I can often figure out what people want me to do. And that is often useful to keep in mind. The problem that knowledge presents then is what to do about it. It goes a little like this: if someone is going to be offended by my choice to abstain from a particular food I can eat it, not eat it, or leave. If I choose not to eat it, I can explain why, or leave it alone and let them assume whatever they like about me (if they care to). If I explain why they can believe the best about me or not. People may like me or dislike me a little more in a given moment based on what I say. I didn’t used to know that but now I can even see it happening sometimes. My words have an effect.

It’s exhausting. What am I supposed to do with all this information?

 ~~~~~

From the Merriam Webster site:

Full Definition of KIND

1
chiefly dialect :  affectionate, loving

2

a :  of a sympathetic or helpful nature

b :  of a forbearing nature :  gentle

c :  arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance <a kind act>

 ~~~~~

At first glance, it would seem that kindness and tenacity are at odds with one another. It doesn’t immediately read as “sympathetic or helpful” to tell someone that they’re wrong about something, that you’re hurt by their actions, or that what they’re doing is harmful to themselves or others. I get that. Does that mean we should never do those things? I think not. I think it means we may do well to expand our definition of kindness. A small definition of kindness (which I’ll refer to from here on out as being nice) is the wide road to people pleasing and denying others feedback which can help them meaningfully learn about themselves and the world. Can it really be kindness to stand by and let someone we care for harm himself or others when we might be able to help him not to do it?  The more I think about it, the more being nice begins to look less like actual kindness.

Someone I trust recently told me that kindness is not something to strive for because kindness is about people pleasing rather than doing what is best for myself or others. I disagree. I think kindness goes far deeper than being nice and that those two things do not always or even usually look the same.

Kindness holds on tenaciously when niceness would let go. Kindness pushes through awkwardness, offense, and hurt. Sometimes, kindness draws boundaries or even steps away for a time when niceness would stay put just to keep the peace for the moment. Niceness may hide the truth to make people happy; kindness looks for the most gentle way to say what is true and necessary.

Being nice instead of kind is like trying to sing a harmony part without any melody to go with it. It might be ok sometimes, but mostly it’s not enough and it will definitely never be a whole song. To put a Sondheim quote on it, “Nice is different than good.” Or, to apply it here, nice is different than kind.

K was right. I’m smart. But figuring out how to be nice to everyone all the time is not a good use of my intelligence.

What am I supposed to do with all this information? Sometimes the answer, thank God, is nothing.

I can figure out how to get more people to like me by being less of who I am. The question is, do I want to?

The answer, I am relieved to find, is no.

kind over nice