My daughters teasingly calls me “unsentimental.” Usually it’s in reference to the times in which I ask a bunch of questions or talk about “research” instead of riding the human emotional wave happening at the time. For example, when we watch one of those the teen movies in which a teen-relevant mind field is exposed and screen writers, actors, directors, and producers pump in enough dramatic emotional content to kill dozen of kittens in one blow in an effort to make sure you understand how IMPORTANT this message is.
Daughter: <silent tears, watching protagonist explain to her mom how important social media is and how cyber-bullying is ruining her life>
Me: <idiotically confused> Wait. Why doesn’t she cancel her account and get a new one?
Daughter: <rolls eyes> She shouldn’t have to cancel her account!
Me: True, but it feels to me it would be easier than fighting a group of asshats that will probably never change and maybe she’ll be better able to deal with them when she’s older?
Daughter: You don’t know that!
Me: Well, a lot of research in personality seems to…
Daughter: Mom! You are being unsentimental. Stop it. I’m crying here.
Ok. I admit. This was an oversimplified summary of the discussion because I actually do know why social media is important and my daughter is absolutely correct when she says the problem isn’t solved by shutting down the account. At the same time, I did say something like that because there was something about the situation that seemed overly hyped and illogical in it’s handling. Like when at the end of the movie, the protagonist stands up and confronts the bully thus ending the issue and causing the bully to think better of their life… Yeah. Ok. That’s not how that works and why are we telling our kids it is?
Like when my daughter had to go to the vice principal’s office for rough housing in line with a couple of classmates who happened to be male. They were left in line, but she was deemed “unladylike” and sent first to the office and then to the counselor’s office where she was informed that “if you’re nice to to others, they’ll be nice to you.” (Let’s save the details of my conversation with the vice principal, the teacher, and my daughter about how I would react if they ever used “ladylike” in my earshot again and focus on my reaction to the counselor’s cliche.)
When I asked her about it when she got home and my response was, “Bullshit! We’re nice to others because it’s the right thing to do. And people will not be nice to you just because you’re nice to them. That’s hogwash.” Funny thing is when I tell this story, the most common response I get is some version of “Wow. That’s rather cynical for kids to learn” which baffles me because I don’t think it’s cynical at all. It’s the truth and why wouldn’t I share the truth with my kids?
Ok I get it. Maybe it’s a statement you’ve heard time and time again and feel like I’m missing the point. Or maybe you feel like it’s a good starting point to the conversation about being kind. Or maybe you feel that people should understand the benefits to being nice to one another because it increases the chances for success. People have told tell me these things repetitively. Of course, they also gape mouth at how much I curse in front of my kids, but I refuse to set my kids up for the pain of wondering if they wouldn’t have gotten yelled at if they had been nicer or if a relationship would have lasted if they apologized more or gotten a promotion if they fit in better.
Because the answer is probably not. The truth is we all run into people having a bad day or a bad year or who are feeling unwell or are suffering from a malady or are just being a asshole. Being kind to others is a choice, sometimes a hard one, but still a choice and the next person you meet shouldn’t suffer because the last one you met wasn’t nice. And interviewers have biases and prejudices that we all need to call out when we can rather than play along; not just for ourselves, but for those who can’t do the calling out for one reason or another.
More importantly, doing the right thing by others shouldn’t be about the reward. It should be a baseline goal like stopping at a stop sign or wearing clothes in public places. It’s an action that shouldn’t require reward nor rarely provides it.
And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about “nice” as in neckbeards calling women “mi’lady” in some effort to seem nice. That’s ridiculous and condescending and lacking kindness and empathy. I mean when saying “thank you” or “How are you?” or “I’m sorry” … meaning it and not just saying it because it’s what’s expected. I also mean standing up for people who need it or calling out bad behavior when you see it or taking criticism well when you need it.
And also I mean forgiving those who fuck up and try to make up. We all fuck up. Dang it, I’m sometimes just horrified by the amount of fuck ups on my permanent record of life, but you know what? At the end of the day, I’m human. That’s gonna happen and I need to forgive myself and work on being better, too.
But somehow with all of my talk of kindness, I comes across as “unsentimental”… well, I guess I’d rather be unsentimental and working on being truly kind than a polite asshole setting other people up to fail through the use of horrible cliches.