April 25, 2017 Elle Bernfeld, LMSW

What the World Needs Now is Kindness

One of my favorite songwriters, the great Hal David once wrote: “What the world needs now, is love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” While I greatly respect the man, and do not disagree that more love would be beneficial, I would argue that what the world needs now is kindness. I don’t say that just because the name of our app is KindMind, and it is a nice plug. That benefit just happens to add in nicely. No, the reason I say that we need kindness is because it is the only way the world can be a better place. Without kindness, we will continue stepping over each other to get our needs met, only to realize that it would have been easier if we simply worked together. Without kindness, victims of trauma become victims again, and may even become perpetrators. Without kindness, we can’t heal.

We have all been hurt before. If you live long enough, it’s nearly impossible to avoid! Some of us get hurt more thoroughly than others, but nonetheless, all of us will be hurt at some point, even if it’s on a small scale. We also have all done something not so nice. Some of us have betrayed others deeply, while others may have only gone so far as to cut someone in line once, or say something hurtful after a long day. Of course, there are many variants in between. Sometimes these mean actions are intentional, while other times we barely think them through at all--if ever. Where do these actions come from, though? How do we justify them? Often we justify them with our own pain and the downplaying of others’ emotions,and their importance. Sometimes we justify them with the fact that someone has hurt us, and perhaps they are deserving of mistreatment. I for one do not think anyone is ever deserving of mistreatment, but that is another argument altogether. The point is that we all have gotten stuck inside a cycle.

Allow me to illustrate this point with an example. Betty has a best friend named Veronica. Betty has a crush on Archie, but then she finds out Veronica has been pursuing him behind her back! How dare she! Betty tries to talk to Veronica, but Veronica, in her embarrassment, brushes Betty off. In her pain, Betty goes and tells her friends what is going on. At first, perhaps, it starts as innocent venting, however, she quickly begins to call Veronica names to demean her. Betty starts to find out that the rumors have spread about Veronica and people start treating her differently. Betty feels better. She feels like she has some justice, but of course, it’s not enough. Betty begins to be more particular about who she contacts. She is more strategic in who she talks to and is more specific in the language she uses, so as to maximize the hurt toward Veronica. Veronica soon becomes an outcast at school, while Betty continues on being “the victim,” however, her behavior resembles the behavior of an abuser. 

Why is this a problem? Didn’t Veronica get what she deserved? What if we added to the story that Betty had, in fact,  done the very same thing to Veronica a year earlier? What if Veronica felt that it was “fair game” after Betty betrayed her the same way? What if she saw her behavior as just innocent flirting? What if, what if, what if? You see, there is always a way to justify bad behavior. Is it ever legitimate? Is it ever ok? Again, that’s a question for another day, but the real issue is that bad behavior doesn’t solve anything. Is Betty really healed now that she got her revenge? Has that allowed her to move on and forgive Veronica? Probably not…which means that she is still holding on to the pain and anger. Even worse, Betty’s behavior has now added to a cycle of meanness. What will Veronica do now that she sees herself as a victim? Has Veronica “learned her lesson?” Or is she just in more pain and now even more likely to act out again? 

My example serves to show that revenge, and even small acts of meanness, only add to the pain in the world. It is pain that drives others to hurt each other. It is pain that deludes us into thinking that we are somehow entitled to another’s pain after what they put us through. Perhaps you might think of an exception. Perhaps you might think of a time when someone hurt you badly and you treated them with nothing but kindness. Perhaps you might think of an itty-bitty thing you did to feel a sense of justice in the world. Well, guess what? You just gave them an itty-bitty piece of ammunition to use against you. You just gave them a way to justify their bad behavior against you. You gave them a way to delude themselves into thinking their behavior was justified and brought them further away from the self-reflection that could actually help them change. 

Somebody has to be the bigger person. Will it be you? If we keep going with this cycle of pain, when will it end? Do we just keep hurting each other because someone else hurt us? Do we keep on excusing our own behavior with lies and feeding the delusions of others with acts of revenge? No. Someone has to take the high road. Someone has to say, “You’re not going to bring me down to your level!” Being the bigger person, being kind to the person who has hurt you, is the only way to stop this cycle of pain. It might not be as exciting or as instantly gratifying as getting back at someone, but you know what? It also feels good knowing that you didn’t let someone break you. It feels good to not give someone a reason to justify their actions, forcing them to look inward. It feels good to know that you took the high road, while they will still suffer on the path they have chosen. Hey, maybe it can feel a tiny little bit like revenge… but it isn’t! 

Supporting each other is a path to healing. It is the human connection in therapy that is most tied to positive outcomes. You don’t need to be a therapist to help heal someone, though. Your love and compassion can help begin their journey to healing. Be kind, my friends, and support each other. We all need it.

Much love,

Elle

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