I thought it fitting to write about kindness at Christmas as it is the season of giving.
I think kindness is the most admirable quality in a person, though it is often misunderstood as a weakness; I remember a senior colleague of mine told me that my kindness will be thrown back in my face, she gave me an example of a young social worker like myself who worked hard to raise money, food and clothes for a underprivileged family at Christmas; the family accepted this gift and appeared very grateful. A few months later, the parents of this family stood in Court and told the Judge what a terrible social worker this young women was; the social worker cried to her colleagues relaying what she had done for the family at Christmas.
I hope to always remember this story, not to discourage me from being kind but to remind me what kindness is. Kindness should not carry expectation, we should not be kind with the expectation that we will be thanked or reimbursed for it. Kindness is the quality of being friendly and compassionate; it is the ability to make a positive impact; if someone chooses to reject your kindness that is okay, this says more about the person than it does about you. Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, we buy gifts for our loved ones in the hope that they will like their gift; we may fear that they may not like their gift or we may become upset if indeed, they reject their gift. This is not dissimilar to kindness, we may fear that a person may reject or take advantage of our kindness. Kindness can be mistaken as naivety or weakness because we think that it makes us vulnerable to humiliation; for example, I recently gave a gentleman who is homeless £40 in the belief that this will fund 2 nights at a hostel, as he told me it would. My friend asked if I was not worried that he may have spent the £40 on drugs or alcohol; I was not worried because my intention was pure and kind, how this person chose to respond to my kindness is a reflection on them and not on me.
Kindness often requires courage and strength because it involves giving some of your self, it is the ability to put yourself in someone elses shoes. This can be particularly challenging in a society that has engraved a ‘survival of the fittest’ ethos which is associated with selfishness and putting ourselves first. Kind people have mastered the art of self-discipline because their wisdom overrides the need for self-righteousness; it is easy to be rude to a rude man, it is far more challenging to consider the rude man’s motives and wish him well. In this situation, who walks away with more power? Undoubtedly the kind person because they have not enabled this man to affect their own emotions, their dignity remains intact and there will be no post guilt. Kindness is a sign of a person who has done a lot of personal work and has come to a great self-understanding.
A friend of mine shared a post on social media asking for food and clothing donations for a person who was homeless in our area, I will refer to this person who is homeless as Mike; she received a handful of comments offering help. A few weeks later a post about the same Mike was shared on social media, only this post said that Mike had put food donations in the bin, was picked up in a luxury car and had rejected help from a charity worker earlier in the day stating that he was scared; numerous people in my community commented on this post degrading Mike. When I read this post a number of concerns went through my mind; who is this man in the luxury car? Human trafficking is real! What is Mike scared of? Did the people donating the food ask Mike if he had any dietary requirements? People who are homeless have food preferences too you know! How does this person sharing this post know all of this? Yet all of these people took this post as fact. I reflected on this and came to the conclusion that perhaps people find the blaming stories easier to accept because then they feel less guilty for not having offered help or shown compassion (that’s just my opinion).
Mike told me about his childhood and his deceased parents; he told me about his passion for food and cooking; he told me about his previous jobs and why he was let go more than once; he told me about his addiction to craic cocaine and his naivety when he first tried the drug 20 years ago, never believing he would become a homeless drug addict. I just wonder if the person who shared this post and those commenting, had given a second thought to Mike as a person and to the circumstances that led to him having to beg on the street, where he is mostly avoided; verbally and non-verbally degraded; judged and will be lucky to make £10 per day. Think about it, how bad must a person’s situation be?
I will never know if what Mike told me was truth or not, I don’t mind either way; whatever the truth of the situation, I believe it is always best to choose kindness. When you come across a situation that does not look like your concept of normal, try to think about the bigger picture; the kind option may be to not say anything at all, rather than to share a judgmental observation or opinion. Christmas is a time for giving and kindness may be the most impactful gift you ever give; it doesn’t cost a thing yet it can accomplish a great deal!