About a decade ago, I made a conscious decision to try and be more kind. The choice came on the heels of a particularly nasty argument I’d had with a friend from college, one where my words were so thoughtlessly cruel even I had a hard time being around myself in the following days. In the misery of my self-imposed exile, I decided that I couldn’t continue as I had been, and promised myself I’d work harder at curbing my tongue and deepening my capacity for empathy.
Changing the outward-facing self is hard, and I’ve made terrible mistakes along the way. Additionally, my ability to make substantive changes to the ways in which I approach the world has been tempered by the fact that I was born with an evil super power. Even as a child I was able to see the fault lines along a person’s character — the way a casual, cutting comment about someone’s deepest, obvious insecurity could win an argument while reducing the other person to tear-stained rubble. It’s not a skill I’m proud of, but I’ll admit I’ve used it to great effect when my temper has gotten the better of me.
Over the last several months, I’ve had a tough time keeping the promise I made to myself so many years ago. The instinctual desire to lay waste to everything and everyone around me makes me feel like I’ve reverted into the girl who flayed her friends one by one until she didn’t have many left. It’s a deeply depressing feeling, especially as it seems the external factors influencing this rage are unlikely to change in any meaningful way soon.
Occasionally, though, I’m reminded of the real reasons I made this vow in the first place. It wasn’t just because I felt lousy about myself, although that’s a perfectly fine reason to have made it. Instead, it was due to a larger awakening about my place in the world, and how my little jigsaw piece affects the greater puzzle.
A few weeks ago, I attended a party for some extremely woke folks who are hellbent on changing the world. The discussions I kept overhearing as I wandered around the room were centered around the philosophical obligations to do good, which made it all the more shocking that I found most of the people in the room to be, frankly, mean as snakes. The juxtaposition of high-level conversations about improving the state of our society coupled with almost comically exaggerated sneers and gossip was jarring.
Later that night, I was texting with a friend about the bizarre nature of the meetup, and the disconnect that seems to be growing, rapidly, between political liberalism and personal responsibility. There seems to be this pervasive, pernicious mentality that if you vote and volunteer and write your senator on behalf of disenfranchised communities, you’ve gained enough extra credit to behave like a trash can in your personal life.
It’s nothing new, I know. But if we’ve gained literally nothing else from this spray tan dictatorship, it’s the knowledge that our personal lives do matter. Kindness matters. Empathy matters. The relationships we build with others matter. The ripple effect of our actions have consequences.