one of the most profound lessons i learned from my last stint at rehab came from a weekly group exercise we did. we were given a typewritten list of personal qualities with space beside each for checkmarks. some of the traits were good, some not so good. trustworthy or hostile. open or closed off. accepting or judgmental. you get the idea.
we would talk to every other person in the group and evaluate each other via ticks; two were required from each participant, pointing out something done well and something that needed to change. by the end, we had a survey of our behaviour; we could see where the problems lay and what we needed to work on. the results tended to cluster, so you weren’t working on twenty different things at once, although sometimes reading about all my negatives made me feel like i’d been run over by a train.
i’m not going to lie, in the early weeks, it was difficult to stomach. nothing like a little negative feedback to make a girl feel special. i’m not sure, even now, that i think this is a particularly helpful or healthy thing to have a group of exceptionally vulnerable people do. personality conflicts had an impact on the task, and sometimes people got slammed simply because they were difficult or unpopular (yes, even rehab has cliques). despite my reservations, i learned important beyond the fact that even in treatment, people can be judgmental and vindictive, and it was this: ultimately, you won’t treat others any differently than you treat yourself.
i have always striven to be kind. it’s important to me, though i’m not entirely sure why. i just know that i go out of my way to avoid causing harm. harming others makes me feel guilty, even when it’s inadvertent, even if they deserved some plain speaking, even if they happen to be spiders (i’m a fan of catch and release). maybe it’s avoiding that guilt that informs my pursuit of kindness. perhaps i’m loathe to cause emotional pain because i’ve experienced so much of it myself. i don’t suppose it really matters.
what i learned from the feedback was that sometimes, i can seem unkind. sometimes, i come across as judgmental and intolerant. that bit of news was horrifying to hear. i’d long thought of myself as accepting and open-minded. i prided myself on it; it was one of the only areas in my life that i felt satisfied with. how was it possible i was perceived so differently? what i came to realize was that you cannot give to others what you cannot give to yourself.
i’m not kind to myself. i judge myself harshly. it’s something i’m working on. not for myself, at least not initially, but because i couldn’t bear the idea that my self-criticism was causing me to inflict harm. i hate that my negative view of myself makes me judge others more harshly; i hate that treating myself badly impacts my ability to treat others well.
it’s such an odd thing; i always assumed those behaviours could be stripped apart and separated, that how i treated myself had no impact on how i treat others. apparently, this is untrue. our thoughts about ourselves affect how we interact with the world more than we realize.
which brings me to love. i’m starting to believe love is where kindness grows. understanding, tolerance, acceptance, grace. they all spring from love, and we need it than we know. we just aren’t taught the right lessons to help us access and use those qualities. that’s something that should be revisited; the goal of an education should be more than numerical literacy. bring back philosophy. bring back books.
emphasize developing the whole person. kindness is too often absent in our daily lives. you notice it’s missing in the tapping feet and passive aggressive sighs in queues for service. you see it in the drivers who race and dodge and weave with nary a signal and zero concern for the lives they hold in their hands. you note it in the judgments we levy at the people who are not of us, who are not in our circle. we hold them to a standard we ourselves fail to meet; we ignore mitigating circumstances, we forget to be kind.
we’re all out of love and that’s a shame. without that quality we cannot be kind to ourselves and what we can’t do for ourselves, we can’t do consistently for others.