We usually notice when we have done something kind for others. We may keep it to ourselves or forget it soon afterwards, but we do notice it. We know we have done something that came from a place of love and life.
Are we as tuned in when we cause pain? Do we realise often enough that our actions can have tremendous lasting impact. What begins as a seemingly inconsequential kernel of cruelty tossed carelessly into someone’s life can create ripples through their choices, subsequent experiences and outcomes. It can spread outwards in breadth and impact for decades and when, eventually the swell hits their limits, double-back on itself, cancelling out some peaks and troughs but exacerbating others.
I don’t think we notice these moments as much – neither as victim nor perpetrator. Unkindness is often the easy or tempting route for personal satisfaction, peer approval or convenience, particularly when we are young, and more often than not it goes unchecked.
One such moment had a deep impact on my life. It is no tragedy, nor even a great event in any scheme of things. I had largely forgotten it and allocated it very little emotional real estate when it did occur to me.
As one does in midlife (so I’m told), I have been mulling over a few personal growth issues with a view to becoming more focused on the joy of life and devouring every moment of sincere experience with my children. It started about two years ago with a personal renaissance of faith, then digressed into psychotherapy sessions for a few months, plateaued on a desolate plain of sorrow and acknowledgement of past traumas and stalled there for a while as I caught my breath. The renewed climb was precipitated by some long-overdue anxiety medication and later the introduction of mystic wisdom and bold belief. I have found a firm foundation from which to move ahead once I decide on a direction. Recently I tried bodywork as a route to healing (body and mind) from a physical vantage point. Quite frankly, my years working as a reflexologist ought to have sent me down this road long before now! Energy healing and muscle testing yielded surprising results and previously unchecked keystone memories erupted:
I was fifteen, nearly sixteen, lanky and lean with braces and hair scraped back either side by clips. I had no sense of style nor any confidence, apart from the false bravado I gleaned from the profuse swearing my mother encouraged. I was bright, but clueless about social politics and navigating tween-to-teen development. I was inexperienced and I was a good kid. An ambitious pianist, I was excited to be included in a school excursion to a week-long music camp near Balgowan in the hills of Kwazulu Natal. Ill-prepared and immature, I headed off towards something I didn’t understand and a world I’d never experienced. It was a week away from school and my homelife dramas, so I didn’t hesitate.
The camp itself had highs and lows and culminated in the first relationship of my teens (he was a good guy). It is the events of the first night, however, that I am thinking about here. At 40-something I honestly cringe at the idea of workshop or conference ‘mixers’ and ‘getting to know you’ activities. But at fifteen this seemed like a hoot and I was wildly enthusiastic – braces glinting in the spotlights of the school hall. We all sat in a large circle of chairs, a hundred or so teenagers directed by a few staff. The idea was that each girl had to place one of their shoes on a pile in the middle and then the boys had to grab one randomly, to then match with the girl wearing the corresponding half of the pair. This would lead to a chat and a quick dance together to kick the evening off. Can you see where this is going?
Keen and obedient, I placed my tidy white pump in the collection and took my seat once more to await my suitor. Of course the boys were simply scanning, memorising the footwear of their chosen target, but I didn’t notice. I was too busy giggling at the prospect conversation with an ACTUAL boy (these were hard to come by as a private-school girl with equally, but happily, unsophisticated friends). With an explosion of testosterone, the hungry dash to the pile of shoes began. Teenage boys were shoving each other, flailing on the ground, lunging, shouting, mangling one another to claim the shoes they wanted. The room echoed with clapping hands and squealing girls fuelling the teenage frenzy.
Then it stopped.
There were only three shoes left, mine among them. A laggard lad picked it up, scanned the circle and then, without hesitation, threw it back into the pile and picked another. My shoe was retrieved by a teacher and handed to a reluctant youth as yet unmatched. Everyone saw this. Only I felt it.
At the time, I was hurt, but as the week progressed in a whir of work and performance, I got lost in making music. Only now has it emerged as one of the formative, crucial moments in the architecture of my life choices. I have been searching the wrong memory banks for the hellfire in which my core beliefs of inadequacy and unworthiness were forged. While a handful of events has sculpted them, a recent energy healing exercise brought this doozie up as a clear front-runner.
That split second of cruel rejection, driven by a normal teenage desire to win a pretty girl (rather than suffer the embarrassment of being lumbered with the geeky grenade) caused huge emotional damage for me. I couldn’t have known at the time, but decades of poor choices in men, friends and even careers was spawned by this early flush of public rejection, shame, crushing humiliation and dismissal.
I don’t blame the guy at all – I don’t believe he did it out of spite or malice – he just wanted a better prize. But motives don’t resonate; actions do.
He DID have a choice, though. In that split second he could have chosen to be gracious in his disappointment. It would have been difficult in front of his mates, sure, but there WAS another option available to him – a kinder one. He chose not to take it, probably never thought about it again and may have since gone on to lead a life of charity and altruism.
I doubt he ever gave it a second thought. Why would he? As we all do, when we so often act without choosing.
Kindness isn’t about getting it right every time; rather it means treating others as best you can, with respect and fairness, regardless of how you feel about them or who they are.
You may not know what impact your actions will have, no matter how meaningless they seem. They may cause a ripple or an indelible impact, so make them positive.
Choose to be kind.
This doesn’t always come easily when we are tired, afraid or stressed and focused on our own needs, so it is a choice that has to be made deliberately.
So make that choice, remember to do it. Choose to be kind.