Friday, June 13, 2014

the Hufflepuff Problem

So most of my blog posts revolve around me complaining about something, or getting on a soap box of some sort. It makes sense, because it’s really easy to talk about the things that bother us. This post will be a little different though. I want to talk about something that is VERY important, but is almost always treated as sort of ‘meh’.

I’m talking about KINDNESS.

Now, I have not always had a full appreciation for this attribute. I’ve actually even felt annoyed by being told I was kind (more on that later). There is this general idea floating around, that people who are primarily kind, are only so because they have nothing else to offer. The ‘nice guys finish last’ idea. What I’m going to call ‘The Hufflepuff Problem’. (That’s right, I went there. My Harry Potter nerd has surfaced. If you aren’t into HP, skip the next paragraph. I promise I get back on point).  

NOBODY wants to be sorted into Hufflepuff.

                “Everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o’ duffers,” –Hargrid

They don’t seem to be high achievers (though that is all a matter of opinion I think), but they are loyal, patient, hardworking and KIND, but everyone just seems to think they are the ‘left overs’. They must not be ambitious, brave, or smart. What if they are all of those things, but their DEFINING characteristics are kindness and loyalty? (ex. Nymphadora Tonks and Cedric Diggory).

I have a very strong memory from when I was a kid, before I even knew HP existed (maybe it didn’t even exist at that point). We were in a school class, 3rd or 4th grade or something, and we went around the room saying something you admired about the person next to you. And I’m sitting there, thinking to myself “don’t say kind, don’t say kind, don’t say kind.” Why? Because if you were described as kind, then that meant you were so non-descript and forgettable, that person couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was the go-to compliment when you were forced to give a compliment. I wanted to be noticed as someone who was smart, someone creative, someone INTERESTING. And at that time, I thought that kindness was the furthest from interesting you could get.

Fast forward to the days of social media! We all belong to the Church of the Blog, where you need only be loud and outrageous and your voice will be heard and re-echoed and made into dogma. (I am fully aware of the irony of writing this as a blog post). We all choose sides and dig in our heels, and reinforce our beliefs and what happens next? We villainize the ‘other’. We throw walls of text in a comment section and don’t give the other side a chance to interject. We get instantly offended by opposing views. Which leads to us automatically assuming that someone who disagrees with us, is attacking us. We get defensive and vicious without even realizing it. We simply feel that we are standing our ground. We completely disregard the RIGHT that others have to their own opinions and beliefs. We ASSUME they just can’t have thought it through fully. ‘If they only heard/read my rant, then they’d see the light and admit that I am right’. But if everyone thinks this, we only get more polarized and no one changes.

*Note, I think there are definitely things to stand up for, and it is important to do so, in a constructive and loving way.

What we need more than ever, is KINDNESS. The problem is, that the people who are truly kind are also the people who don’t often get involved in internet squabbles. They avoid them like the plague (and are probably happier for it). I think, though, that an interjection of kindness can go a long way. It has much more power than we think. Instead of being sort of ‘meh’, the quality of kindness can be the most strengthening and unifying attribute we have in our arsenal.
How can kindness have power? Let’s look at where the word came from. According to the Online Etymology Dictonary, kind as an adjective in the sense I am referring to it:

"From Old English gecynde "natural, native, innate," oirignally "with the feeling of relatives for each other," 
‘Natural, native, innate’. Are we innately kind? I genuinely believe so. We learn to be aggressive and defensive when we experience loss. When we lose out on something we think we deserve and desire. We harden ourselves to live in a hardened world. Yes, we do inherit a world of problems and we have to figure out how to navigate in that world. Yes, we do need to protect ourselves from harm. But in doing so, do we also take it too far? Maybe if we try to be a little kinder, we will recognize that it is a natural part of us. Humans have a great potential for destruction and harm, but we also have a great potential for good and love and kindness.

This has been on my mind a lot recently. This is because I have seen it in action so much in the past month. My dad has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Something you never want to happen, but once you do you find you belong to an incredible club. A club of concern, of love, of great spirit, of strength and of kindness.

As a result of complications from the cancer, my dad had an extended hospital stay and eventually surgery. It was difficult to witness the pain he was feeling. He is one of the kindest people I know. Everyone who knows him loves him, and this is because he loves everyone around him. You never want something like this to happen to people like him. In order to communicate what was going on to the people who were interested, we set up a blog. We also set up a place for people to leave words of encouragement for my dad, to send him messages if they wanted to. This has been overwhelming.

One day, I was sitting with my brother and my dad in the hospital, and my brother was reading the comments from the blog. They were simple messages. Simple words of love and support, from people that my dad hadn’t seen since High School, or even Middle School. But with these simple words, came so much love. So much support. They mean a lot to my dad, and they mean a lot to me.

These words from strangers brought me on the verge of tears. This has made me notice the small acts of kindness I receive every day. Generally I keep my emotions behind 2 or 3 layers of pragmatism, but lately all it takes is an offhand compliment, or a message of concern, or a friend picking me up from the mechanic, or an unexpected hug and I’m about to start crying. I have been the recipient of so much kindness, it’s making me tear up writing this stupid blog post.

When tragic things happen to people we care about, we don’t know how to react. We don’t know what to say or what to do. What I am suggesting, is that we just say or do SOMETHING. Don’t be afraid of it being silly, or insignificant or even inappropriate. If you are motivated with love and kindness, then you will likely be much more impactful than you can even imagine. Instead of rushing to the defensive, rush to be kind. Rush to be compassionate. Learn to have kindness as your knee-jerk reaction. We have so much more in common than different. By being kind, it doesn’t take away from any other qualities you have. It doesn’t make you less intelligent, less witty, less funny, and less brave. It magnifies all of your good qualities.

Dare to be kind.