but what even is kindness anyways

Kindness is one of those mysterious things where you don’t exactly know how to pin it down at times, but you know it’s there. People who are kind just feel that way, and when we really think about it, it takes us a while to come up with a specific example. When we talk to strangers, we can sense a bit of their personality, and even right after we’ve met them, we assume how nice they are based upon it.

Kindness is a level of love that any two individuals can share. It means respect for the other person’s opinions, genuine compassion and interest in their life, and taking time out to do something the other person needs, or might find difficult on their own. Sharing food is often seen as kind because you’re directly restricting your own well being to give someone something they might require.

Yet, kindness is still mysterious because if you’re not used to it or not in very specific situations, it’s not clear what the right, nice thing to do is. Take the example I gave before with sharing your food with a small animal, like they typically show in movies to prove the protagonist is a good person. That feeding might teach animals in real life to become dependent on humans, which increases the likelihood they’ll be hurt because they’re hanging around humans too much. Furthermore, the closest animals we typically could feed are the common species that don’t need the extra food. Not feeding a pigeon isn’t going to kill them, they’re going to hop over to the next family and try their luck again. My point, regardless of your opinion on pigeons, is that kindness is a broad term, and there will always be ways to justify not taking action, for better or worse.

It’s okay to not know how to be kind. We get out of practice, and some people are naturally more compassionate than others. However, we should strive for it, as unnatural as it may seem. We won’t always know what the best, most sincere, and respectful route of action is. Life is ambiguous, but we can always be better. It’s a matter of keeping our eyes open and seeing where we can help. A good starting point is getting into the habit if literally asking, “Hey, is there anything I can do to help?”

please please you

We overlook an important factor when we say, “Don’t try to please other people”, and that factor is that we have to live with people. To some extent, we do have to adjust our behaviors to fit into the norm. For example, we typically are pressured to wear clothes, be hygenic, etc. However, more than that, we have a mighty desire to get along with people! And part of getting along with someone is pleasing them to a certain degree. While these are all important facts, there still remains that feeling that giving your life to “please everyone” is wrong.

We are social, caring, and relatively altrustic creatures. It makes sense to do something for another person so that they are more pleasing to you. Yet we can get too caught up in it. We can give and give and not want to express our true feelings for fear that the relationships we have will change too dramatically. It’s way easier to scream and make a scene on your last day of work then on your first, and the reason is that (assuming they don’t fire you) you’ll have to live with everyone afterward. Whether we want to admit it or not, being yourself and expressing your opinions is a risky activity. It provides space for crtique, for disappointments, conflict!

But without conflict, critique, or disappointment, we cannot grow. We should aspire to be respectful in whatever situation to make it smoother and facilitate understanding, but people are going to disagree. If you take a risk and say what you think, sure, you might ruin a relationship or make it awkward. But being in a true, geniune relationship of any kind requires honesty. If it’s awkward, you’ll eventually figure it out and be better for it. If it ruins the relationship itself, there was likely something missing in the first place. The relationships we have with other people should be sincere. Not being true to yourself hurts you but also the integrity of your bonds. So take the risk! Express yourself and be assertive! You can do such great things!

the flavor of cheesy life

As much disdain and gruesome sneers result from the phrase, “Hallmark Movies”, there’s a distinct flavor to them. Along with cheesy phrases, cliques, and even cheesier movies, there is a part of us that loves all the hackneyed things of this world. Humans like to feel good. It’s why we eat lots of junk food and ignore our obligations! Because it’s nice to not feel uncomfortable! Cheesy movies make us feel good because they tend to wrap things up well. Instead of having to deal with the awkward, hard realities of relationships, we get to experience a story where there is most definitely a message, point, and happy ending.

There’s a temptation to think we somehow deserve a Hallmark movie life. Or rather, that we deserve some story with a nice character arc and, though there is conflict and adventure, there is faith that the ending is going to come safely and with a beautiful reward. Instead, there are ugly things around us. There is unkindness and gross behaviors and things show up. Not only is the storyline ambiguous, but the characters usually aren’t inspirational, and the words stumble around a lot more. Things don’t end neatly, and sometimes the growth we expect doesn’t happen like we want it to.

It’s good to enjoy good things! Sometimes we need dramatic, over-emotional, neat little stories to entertain us! It’s a nice treat and helps us focus on brighter thoughts. It can help hone us on an end goal and encourage us that our conflicts can be overcome! However, we shouldn’t dwell too much on perfect little worlds, because it’ll just make us all the more sad when we re-realize how unperfected our own is. The point is, we need to be active players in our own book. If we grow in expected ways, it’s not really growth, just an exercise in will.  It’s easy to say conflict is necessary, but it’s much harder to believe it. So don’t try to force yourself into being some positive train, pummeling through life with all the answers! It’s okay that things are hard. It’s okay if things aren’t good right now. Just keep going anyways.

Social Media is Fake

Last night, from bits of conversation I accidentally eavesdropped, I heard this comment: “Social Media gives you the illusion that all artists are better than you– but that’s not true.” I think there is a good lesson to this. Social Media doesn’t show you the average. Think about it; we don’t post our normal photos, we post the best ones with the best filters. When an artist becomes popular and has thousands of followers, it’s likely because they are professionals. Those professionals show up easily in search engines and explore pages because lots of people like them and they have excellent work. However, their work is something that took years to cultivate.

 Even if you don’t care about artists at all, think about professional photographers, writers, models etc. What is popular is not always realistic, and rarely is. The more time we spend on social media, the more we spend becoming discouraged. After all, it seems like the world around us is doing significantly better because the extremes are what we like to share and talk about. We don’t see the best photo in the county, we see the best photos in the nation. It trivializes effort if your not careful, because one begins to think that 1. What they see is easy or 2. They can never achieve that level.

Life is hard, and it’s hard for everyone. Trying to compare who has it worse is a waste of time because you’ll never truly know. Furthermore, if someone is really suffering, we should be trying to help them, not feeling bad that they’ve experienced a worse fate than us. What we see isn’t always the truth because there is more to it that we cannot see. Keep your eyes open then, try to remind yourself that a lot of your feed is likely an illusion. It does not represent the average. You are doing just fine, keep going! Keep progressing! Let the work of others be inspirational, not detrimental to your personal journey of growth. 

Make your life your novel

 

Almost everyone has tried to write a book at some point in their life. It might be three pages long and half developed or it might be a full three page novel they can’t stop editing. If you ask someone what they would like to write a book about, practically every single person can think of something they’ve secretly been working on mentally. However, there obviously isn’t a book on the shelves for every person who wants to write one because they usually don’t even find their way onto paper.

There’s lots of reasons why a book doesn’t come into fruition. The person forgets the idea, they discard it, life gets in the way and they don’t work on it, they complete it and never get it published, they try to get it published and no one wants it; there’s so many things that can sway a book from publication. The big factor, though, is the individual who wants to write it. We don’t write books because we usually don’t have the self-control to do so. It’s not that the idea isn’t big enough, or that the plot isn’t developed enough. It’s the fact that we have to put our heads in the game on a daily basis and work on it until we make the idea big enough and the plot developed enough.

Not everyone is a writer, and not all writers are good at what they do. Writing is an incredibly difficult task, trying to get at the barest bones of communication. You don’t have to work on a book in order to feel successful in life, but we could all improve our self-discipline. It doesn’t matter what you want if you don’t do anything to get it. In some areas, writing a book is easier than other tasks because you can measure how much you’ve done through page number, word count, or chapters completed. So give yourself a measure! Make a checklist and fill out your goals. Don’t let your ambitions be unrealized, but seek them out every day, because every day is a gift.

What does your face look like?

We only see the mirror view of ourselves. Others get to see all angles of our faces, but we are limited in seeing how we really look on a daily basis. That’s why seeing a video of yourself is such a peculiar event; you are suddenly the onlooker of your own actions. But what is it like for a stranger? What parts of you are most salient? What aspect of your face do people focus on?  It’s important to think about because perspective because we get really caught up in our own heads sometimes.

The fact is, we dwell on certain things. We get bored and start thinking about tasks that aren’t necessary for survival like the humans we are. However it also means that when anything occurs, we are looking through a subjective lens. The faults we see may not be obvious to other people. The beautiful parts we see might also be hidden. We are used to our own standard of features, people, places, emotions, and we compare everything to it,  but it remains an unquantifiable bar. 

All of this is just to say that it’s easy to forget that not everyone has had the same experiences. Not everyone sees what you see. To some people, our noses might be the first thing they think about. To others it might be our forehead or chin. When frustrations arise, try to look on as an outsider. Try to bend your mind. You don’t have to agree, just get out of your own head for a little bit and you’ll find that it shows the other person a great deal of respect.

Don’t starve yourself from people

For social beings who by nature need communication and contact, we have a really bad habit of isolating ourselves. We would prefer to hide behind social media, small talk, and our own self-doubts rather than try and make connections. Socialization is hard work, even for extroverts. You are a bubble of experiences, ideas, thoughts, temperament, and genetics and you meet another bubble that has all its own experiences and beliefs. Who knows if youre bubbles overlap? Trying to find similarities is frightening because people don’t always click right away.

Making friends means being vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable because it means not being able to predict the future as well. Even something as minor as revealing you love dogs: what if they hate dogs and have had traumatic experiences with them? It’s unlikely, but the more personal the topics get, the more risky it is to share them because you don’t know how they’ll react. As much as social anxiety is seen as over reacting in our culture, it’s actually not that unreasonable when you consider how socialization puts identity and sense of self at risk.

We like focusing on the ‘good stuff’, especially in American culture. We like feeling good, looking good, and being happy 100% of the time. When we talk and risk oursleves, we demand and expect payback for that socialization risk. Yet sometimes the result is awkward and embarrassing. It’s not required to be pretty and it usually isn’t  smooth at all. In fact, it can be uncomfortable and unsatisfying.  Talking to other people is hard, that’s proven by how entire college majors are dedicated to simple communication.

It’s okay to be socially awkward, everything gets better with practice. It’s okay to miscommunicate something, you’ll keep at it and they’ll eventually catch on. It’s okay to not know what to say, you’re not a mind-reader. It’s natural to have some difficulties when bridging the gap between two entirely different lives. Keep at it! Keep taking risks and communicating with people. Closing ourselves off socially is starving ourselves of a basic pyschological desire, so stay fed! It might not always seem worth it in the moment but it is in the long run.

 

The Fans

Not all passions are equal in the eyes of our culture. People who care about TV shows seem somehow “less” or more frivolous. That arises from the fact that it usually doesn’t require a higher degree of education or complex thinking to watch it. Furthermore, spending all of your time thinking about a show takes away from thinking about something more valued by our culture. However, I’d like to try and change that view point just a bit: why do most people care more about shows than we do real things?

Shows are captivating because they have story lines. As humans, we love stories, we think in stories. Yet they are also captivating because a vast majority of them have character development. You can trust someone is going to change, and most likely it will be for the better. It’s comforting. Also, if they are done correctly, shows can be amazingly interesting. Science is absolutely fascinating, but not thrilling like watching dragons attack a castle. Books are entertaining, but people don’t like spending the energy it takes to imagine and process the words.

When you compare random bits of data, it’s much harder to get excited than over Person A killing Person B over Person C who loves person D who loves person B. In our lives, we love stories, but we also get frustrated when our lives work out more like a series of random events and less like a path that leads somewhere. Not all passions are equal because some roles seem to be only available to those who are skilled enough to achieve them. Fans are a dime a dozen, but lawyers? Learning the Law takes years of extra schooling. The problem is most lawyers probably aren’t that passionate about the law. 

 What if we were as passionate about our lives as we are by really good shows? What if we could see ourselves as the protagonist and the hard work as a mighty challenge that’s worth overcoming? Consider becoming a fan of your own life.

Asking questions 

What does it mean to be human? Are we a sum of memories? Is there some sort of innate seed of a soul we can’t ever get rid of? Are we simply a brain? Scientists, philosophers, and anyone else who has ever taken a really long shower have debated this with themselves. It’s good to ask these questions, it helps us define what we believe and who we are. However it can be a toil to really try and figure that sort of thing out; a trouble we don’t really want to deal with all the time. Some people do everything in their power to avoid thinking about existence, others spend all their time doing it. Overthinking can get you into a dark spiral, but ignoring the big questions can make it hard to find meaning. The real question is how do we find the balance between the two? Where is the perfect level of cognition?

The first time I had chocolate soymilk I was disgusted. The second time I thought it was alright. The third time was pretty good, and today it was absolutely delicious.  We might never get a clear answer when it comes to philosophical questions because even the small things like our opinions about a drink can be impacted by time, location, mood, etc. However by asking them, we force oursleves to take a hard look at the world we perceive, and surprisingly at the world within oursleves. It would be handy to have some sort of meter that guided you to the “perfect” level of cognition, or some sort of algorithm for life. Yet it is the nature of this ambiguity that gives us meaning and maybe a clue as to what makes us human. 

Life is more trial and error than a systematic procedure. We operate on general concepts and broad ideas. We can be cruel or kind but we exist. So exist! Overthink, underthink, make mistakes, feel terrible, feel terrific! Ask the big questions and do your best to answer them. Then watch some mindless TV because it’s fun. If you don’t know what you’re doing, try and figure it out! The greatest mistake we can make is tricking ourselves into thinking we don’t have a choice and stagnating. You can do this. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Fear is a part of our lives. As Americans, we don’t like thinking about that: “We’re free independent people! We do what we want because we want to do it!” But even if we say the only thing to fear is fear itself, we don’t apply that to our everyday lives. We fear being judged, failing, being embarrassed, and more. Then it stops us, freezes us up from taking risks.

However, fear is also a powerful motivator, if you’ve heard any villian-monologue. True in a lot of cases, fear is an influential emotion. It can even be a healthy motivator. Everyone experiences fear at some time or another, but it’s a matter of what scares you that drives your actions. If we fear remaining the same, we can strive to make a change. If we teach ourselves to fear the risk of doing nothing, we can convince ourselves to take risks that help us in the long run. 

And it’s okay to be afraid! Fear has such a negative connotation around it because it seems like only cowards get scared. However, fear is very real. It’s even a wise action to be afraid; it means you know the risks and are alert for your safety. Being afraid means being on guard in dangerous situations. If you are afraid, you can prepare yourself, it makes evolutionary sense. When we experience this fear, the key isn’t to try and ignore it, but push through it. Be afraid and take the jump anyways.