What’s weird about themes is they can be hard to see when you’re in the middle of a story. I always dreaded teachers asked what the theme of this week’s book was when we hadn’t gotten to the end. Themes often make sense only in full context (don’t get me started on the often subtle difference between Hawaiian and Tiki, please) – thus I imagine we’ll all see a lot more “themage” and “take-away” when Fifty/Fifty is produced in longer formats.*
One theme I have noticed in myself throughout this trip, and in retrospect upon looking back at relationships pre-Fifty/Fifty- is that people tend to note I’m overly kind (example A). “Kind to a fault,” they say. And we see that time and time again: in relationships that have gone a little sour and on first dates where men have crossed my personal boundaries. Even more so, we see my kindness paving the way to hell for myself and others, as in attempting to be kind I wind up actually just being more hurtful – like when I omit information that it vital to a relationship for the sake of kindness (like, hey, I’m annoyed you still talk to your ex and I know you do it because I looked at your phone or, hey, I’m more interested in someone else than you even though you’re a perfect boyfriend. Yep, I’m very flawed in relationshipland too, lest you at this point think I’m not). Megan will question why I’m nice to boys – or to anyone we come across – when they’ve demonstrated a reason not to be. And my friends have been known to do the same.
I’ve found a potential reason as to the perpetual Why? asked of me.
Back in the time of adolescents, when pre-teen girls start the Ferris wheel of hormones, there is an incredibly fast-moving amount of cattiness that whirls through social circles (which quickly can become non-social circles if you’re the odd-girl out this week). There is a lot of info about this behavior and if you must you can research on your own (or just read Judy Blume’s Blubber which exemplifies it all very well and remarkably quickly). Anyway, when I started spinning through occasional exile and pariah status for indiscretions such as wearing colored jeans (hey, they weren’t cool in 1995, folks) and a screenprint sweatshirt with a zebra on (again, let me note there were no such things as hipsters back then), I would come home and talk about my outcast status with whoever was around. Like my dad.
Up until this point, my dad had usually been rather neutral on how to treat people. I mean, if someone is trying to punch you, you might want to take a swing back (actually, he suggested kicking as even back then my legs were significantly stronger than my upper body). When friends came over he watched football games in the living room while we did whatever it was kids do, like make up soap-operas with our Barbies. Sometimes, my dad would make popcorn and bring us some, and my poor friends would be confused by things like air-popped and Molly McButter seasoning.** And at dinner he wanted to know about academics and why I hadn’t asked any questions in class, not about who had decided I wasn’t worth speaking to during recess.
Eventually, the emotion-seeped confusion of what I did to deserve being kicked out of the clique piqued his interest. He’d hear me tell tales of girls who ignored my existence, the same girls who days before had been my best friends and were wanting to be twins on Twin Day. I remember one girl, whose parents always took us to speed skating, telling me that she heard her parents say they didn’t like driving me around and I was a nuisance to them – I stopped skating after that, and it’s only in retrospect that I see this was just another way to hurt my feelings. Anyway, my dad was known as the Bear at college due to his ability to roar, and really wasn’t scared of anyone or anything. So I took his advice to heart when over dinner, him holding a glass of wine and me a glass of milk, he said the following:
“Just keep being nice. Walk up to those girls with a big smile on your face and say ‘Hi!’ What’s going to bother them more than you being sad is you acting like you don’t care. Look ‘em in the eye, grin, and it will make them crazy. Don’t let anything they say bother you. Just smile and be nice. If they insult you, say ‘Thanks! Same to you!’ If you show them you’re invincible, you will be.”
In other words, kill them with kindness.
This was a methodology I could get behind. Let’s face it: I sucked at being mean back. I was, and still am, the person who will cry before I’ve even got an insult out of my mouth (sometimes I’m able to hurl an insult and then cry but trust me, no mean words goes unpunished in my head). And you know, it worked. I mean, it was harder than heck to follow my dad’s advice and walk up to these gals grinning, but I did it. They were baffled, because let’s face it, they were 10 or 11 or 12 and rebuking social norms gets lost on even adults, let alone kids.
The problem is that kindness works really well on playground bullies, but what works on adolescent girls doesn’t often translate into adult life. The bullies are bigger with vastly different intentions – namely intimidation and sex, not popularity – and I wind up sending really bizarre social cues when I’m kind.
However, I simply don’t want to be any other way. Wait, that’s not true exactly. Here’s what I mean: I don’t want to be anything but kind, though I want to learn and implement being kind when it is called for even when it hurts someone else in the short term. I don’t want this to impede my ability to stand up for myself when required, but I also don’t want to feel like I have to get the rage and fury when someone has hurt me. I’d rather be on good terms than bad. I’d rather have friends at a distance than disdain close up.
And I’m still not sure if this is something I need to change or not. Is it possible to become different than what you’ve always been? It must be, yet somehow going on fifty first dates sound a whole lot easier than potentially being kind to everyone. Maybe it’s all just a matter of being purposeful with kindness. Mindful kindness? Hmmm.
*Like the documentary. And the potential book (accepting applications for editors/agents now). Or the Cirque du Soleil retelling (um, how rad would that be?!). Maybe the Snap Judgement segment (come on, Glynn Washington, you know I’ve got this).
** I cannot believe this condiment is still around.