La La How The Life Goes On

Be Kind

Posted on: February 18, 2015

Sounds simple. Sounds trite. But sometimes it’s good to have a reminder: if you are presented with the option to either be kind or be unkind, choose the former. Sounds simple, right? And yet it’s not. Because in the heat of the moment, in the rush of our daily lives, in the push and pull of relationships, it can be all too easy to be thoughtlessly, unthinkingly, capriciously–even unintentionally–unkind.

I’ve been ruminating on this topic (that’s a lie. I’ve been STEWING) since Bambina’s school musical. This is the 6th year I’ve volunteered, and my third in a larger administrative-type role.  Long time readers will recall that I volunteered after the first year because I could NOT BELIEVE how inept all the people running the musical were. Just astonished at the lack of organization and attention to detail. So I signed up to “help” but really I signed up to be an a-hole know-it-all who was gonna show them how business is conducted properly. You know, that crucial and life-changing 3rd through 5th grade volunteer musical life-or-death business. Grandiose, much?

Fast forward to me volunteering and realizing that the inept moron in the building was and always had been ME. These moms and dads volunteering for this show were busting their asses in ways I had never noticed (or frankly, never thought to notice). Every single one of them was a truly nice person working on their own time and their own dime trying to create something special for my kid and her classmates. But all I’d had time for was judgment. Unkindness. Never expressed, of course, but carefully nursed and considered. I didn’t characterize it as unkindness of course. It was righteous indignation. Helpful critique. Wise counsel. But in the end, as I look back, it was just lazy unkindness, nurtured by an over-developed sense of entitlement regarding my child. I’m not proud; I’m just coming clean.

Fast forward again to the past three years in which I’ve worked in a larger role for this musical. Fast forward to every single year receiving an indignant email from a parent literally within hours of the show ending. So: three years volunteering for 6+ months on a major project involving upwards of 50-100 children. And three years of not getting to put my head on the pillow that night feeling good about it. Three years of having the sense of accomplishment and joy and shared labor of love poked in the eye by a parent who couldn’t wait even 6 hours before zooming off an email detailing what we did wrong as regards his or her child. And in every case, the email came from a parent who volunteered ZERO hours to the project. ZERO.

The most recent this year really got me off balance precisely because it was truly unkind. Whatever point she wanted to make about how to improve the process or outcome was completely lost in the general nastiness of the message. And all I could think was, “Would you have said this to me if you were standing in front of me?” I imagine not. But who knows? It was just so demoralizing precisely because all of her concerns/complaints were so deeply unfounded as to be demonstrably wrong to any eyes that saw us working with her child over the previous 6 months. And yet it was such a punch in the face not perhaps because it was so very incorrect, but because it was so very unkind. There was no sense that ‘hey, you’re nice people who maybe didn’t think about items A B or C.” It was “you intentionally did A B and C to be petty and mean to a 10 year old.” Which is monstrously unkind.

The Baby Daddy of course had his even-keeled view of things as I closed my computer vowing to never volunteer ever again. I mean, you don’t volunteer because you expect a ticket tape parade. But you don’t volunteer to be shit on either, right? Like, I cannot wait to spend my free time working with 50 kids and spending my own money to create something special so I can feel like a pile of shit within three hours of final bows. No sane person signs up for that. And I vowed this was my last year.  Then BBDD reminded me that if 50 kids were in the show and ONE parent is pissed off enough to send a nastygram, those are pretty great percentages. If our kid and her friends learned something from the experience and bonded a little and grew a little as humans, then those are pretty great outcomes. And if I can find a way to not let one person being thoughtlessly, needlessly and seemingly enthusiastically unkind ruin a full year of planning and rehearsing and producing, then that would be the greatest outcome of all.

And so I’m still in. A little bit more cautious in my dealings with other people’s kids. Slightly less willing to make that extra-extra leap simply because no good deed will go unpunished. But on the plus side, I’m reminded of the value of kindness. Of giving the benefit of the doubt. Of assuming the best in others intentions even if I can’t see it in their actions. Of remembering, that just as I get up every day and am doing the best I can, the odds are good that 99% of the world around me is doing the same. That if I ever find myself assuming the worst about someone and feel called by God to send them an email at 11pm cleaning their clock, I will review the following sign that hangs in our house (you know, for the kids):THINK

If the answer to all 5 isn’t an enthusiastic Yes, then err on the side of silence. And kindness.

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