The power of kindness, listening and love

Think about the last conversation you had. Whether it was with a relative, friend, colleague or just a passing stranger, did you think carefully about the conversation at the time? Did you ponder how the words you were saying might be more than just words? Did you consider that the words you say might be forgotten by you, but analysed by the listener?

This is a lot of effort just for a passing comment, isn’t it?

It’s entirely possible that your last conversation contained no possible pitfalls, but I can almost guarantee there have been conversations in your past that did.

The new series of Sex and the City started recently. As an avid fan I was excited to see what they did with the reboot named ‘And Just Like That’, especially in the absence of Kim Catrall (character Samantha Jones). I think it’s in episode 3 or 4 that the protagonist, Carrie, meets a new friend. She’s a glamarous realtor (estate agent) who is single and looking for love in her 50’s. Carrie makes a passing comment that she ‘admires her for still putting herself out there’. It’s a comment that’s immediately forgotten by Carrie, but her new buddy is hurt by what feels like a note that she should be ashamed in some way for ‘putting herself out there’ despite her age. When she tells Carrie how she felt later in the show, Carrie is immediately apologetic and realises how a simple remark, meant to be complimentary, ended up causing harm.

I couldn’t help but think how appropriate this was for the post I wanted to write. How true, that a passing comment you’ve made could hurt someone’s feelings, even if it came from a positive or complimentary place. And unlike Carrie, you may never find out about the hurt you caused.

Of course, the conversations or exchanges aren’t always with people you know.

I’ve experienced the negative effects of trolling and online bullying first hand, and despite the informal setting and buffer of a screen between me and the idiot posting, the pain it caused was the same as so-called ‘real life’.

I’ve thought a lot about whether or not to say these things, and decided that if they are a reality for me, there is a chance other people will know and relate to what I’m talking about.

You don’t have to be deliberately careless to cause someone mental distress. Failing to return a call, forgetting a birthday, refusing ANOTHER invitation out with friends, making a remark without consideration, getting drunk and making a scene…the list goes on. And yes, I agree, if we all constantly thought this hard about EVERYTHING we say and do, we’d all end up walking on eggshells and possibly getting nothing done. I believe it’s about BALANCE (yawn 😯) coupled with the odd thought “did that remark cause more pain than good?” or “am I considering the other person in my response?”.

Examples are helpful in these situations so here are a couple of mine, with personal details removed for obvious reasons.

Deliberately unkind

Selling items on Ebay last year for myself and a friend, I was getting a lot of messages with offers for the items. One morning I had a cheeky offer for something. The item was around £50 and the offer was £5. I rejected the offer, and the two subsequent offers at £6 and £7. Ten minutes later I received a message from the user whose offers I’d rejected, saying…

“Good luck selling your crap, Fatty.”

I was selling clothes. Plus size clothes. They belonged to my friend who had lost weight and they no longer fit. Obviously that information wasn’t on the auction listings and I didn’t mention these mindless comments to my friend. It was pretty needless nastiness. I wasn’t rude with the rejected offers. I didn’t even send a message. I just rejected them. On a bad day, these circumstances have the potential to cause significant emotional harm. The comment hurt me personally. I was upset that someone thought it was ok to talk that way to a stranger just because they have a screen in front of them rather than a face. As I said before, pain from the internet is exactly the same as pain in reality.

Passively unkind

The passive style of unkindness is the one I have the most experience with. People who, if I told them what their actions or remarks had caused, would possibly feel terrible. They don’t mean it, so you say nothing, but it hurts anyway. Gradually with each occurance, the pile of rejection, paranoia and hurt gets higher until it has an effect on your health. Again, you say nothing because you don’t want to upset anyone.

I’m guilty of being passively unkind too, and it’s something I’ve only really been able to call myself out for when I started noticing it happening to me. It has the potential to have a massive knock-on effect for the person hearing it. It’s the main reason I don’t have any long-term or close friends any more – my anxiety and agoraphobia made it hard for me to stay involved, so I chose not to attend or not to reply and they stopped trying. That’s my fault as well as theirs, and again, it’s something I only realise now I understand the ripple effect of my actions.

Today alone I’ve felt the effects of careless, passive unkindness from 4 places. These people have the ability to realise that they said something hurtful, but being too busy or too involved they don’t realise. I say nothing because I don’t want to upset anyone or make them feel awkward.

See the pattern here?

Amongst all this is a common theme. The desire not to upset someone, despite being upset yourself.

Why isn’t it ok, after a reasonable amount of carelessness, to say “Hey, that thing you said upset me a bit and this is why…”? Or “I was disappointed when you didn’t respond to my messages”? Or “That comment you made about my dress looking tight left me feeling like a fat ugly piece of shit and I didn’t eat all weekend after”?

The last example might seem exaggerated, but in reality that’s how I feel when someone says I look ‘chubby’ or “Oh, you stopped losing weight? It was going so well”. What kind of comment is that? Yes, it’s real. Yes, I was distraught. No, I didn’t say anything.

Silence is NOT golden

This is a HUGE pet peeve for me and, sorry guys, but it seems to be men that like this (non) solution the most (although women can be guilty too).

For me, this is most commonly used by people who are in a conflict or argument and have run out of things to say OR they are losing. The net result is walking away, one word answers, dismissiveness or just going quiet in general. This means leaving the person on the receiving end to make up their own responses. Paranoia (something I hope to talk about in more detail one day) is a creeping, spreading, infinitely multiplying ecosystem, which, when left to it’s own devices, will fill in the gaps with the worst case scenario. For example – He hasn’t responded to my message for 4 hours – he’s having an affair. She walked away when we were half way through the conversation – she must be angry with me. She didn’t give me any feedback on my report – I’m doing a bad job.

As I’ve said before, the list goes on.

One of my biggest negative attributes used to be a white-hot level of rage that I experienced when I was stressed, worried or disagrred with. That was my version of the golden silence. I’d get angry. Looking back I was probably well into my thirties when I stopped feeling the rage and started experiencing the anxiety. It went from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Responding to confrontation by retreating with extreme fear and paranoia. So the silence can mean many things, and rather than assuming it’s arrogance, sometimes I have to stop and consider if maybe the disagreement should just end so no one suffers mentally.

We all have to be accountable for our comments, and consider that everyone, EVERYONE, has stuff going on behind closed doors that the rest of us don’t see. You never know the fragile state of one of the girls in the office who didn’t come out last Friday. You don’t know about the wife afraid of her husband who stops her contacting her friends. You don’t know that the class clown goes home every night and cries because of lonliness. You don’t know that the girl wearing the pink dress has lost 3 stone, so when you laughed at her clothes, she took it that you thought she was fat and reduced her calorie intake to a dangerous degree.

These are all real examples of people I know, or should I say, have known in the past. Some of these situations were overlooked by me at the time. Again, I’m no saint when it comes to being aware of peoples feelings. At least, I wasn’t in the past. I’m trying to improve.

In conclusion I think all we can do is be more self-aware. The world feels like a melting pot of ‘awareness’ these days. I have to be child-aware, romantically-aware, emotionally-aware, pain-aware, creatively-aware and mentally-aware on any given day. That’s before the added extra interactions I wasn’t expecting. Phone calls, knocks at the door, emails I had no warning about – these are all forms of contact that I have to be ‘aware’ about without prior knowledge. I know (rather, I’m aware) these are exceptional circumstances and I am paranoid to the extreme, so I concern myself FAR more than the ‘normal’ person about this stuff. But awareness (to a normal degree) is becoming more important.

I think the main reason is the level of connectivity we now live with. Our phones, tablets, computers, televisions and laptops are keeping us in a constant state of readiness for a conversation that MIGHT occur, whether it be negative or positive. This constant readiness makes my ability to be ‘aware’ really difficult, mainly because I’m constantly tired of responding and analysing those responses.

Despite this, I know there is room for improvement and understanding is actually very simple if you take a step back and think about your words, rather than just firing out replies like bullets from a machine gun.

At a minimum, having taken a moment to think about a response makes it possible for you to tell someone that you TRIED to be helpful / diplomatic / complimentary (or otherwise) by thinking about what you were saying. So even if you did cause someone to be hurt, you thought carefully before replying and actively TRIED not to do so. Effort is always well received, even if it was unsuccessful.

As an opinionated person (I bet you can’t believe that!) I am 100% guilty of speaking long before I actually bother to engage my brain, and it’s got me in hot water many times. Don’t be like me and become so paranoid that you never talk, but think a little more from time to time, and your care and attention (rather than cause harm) might actually have the power to help someone without you even realising it.

A kinder, more thoughtful world is a place we all deserve to live.

On to my final note covering the accompanying artwork. Do you have any ideas for a picture that might look like kindness? I bloody didn’t. I did some searches on brother Google for some tasty, useful ideas 💡 and all it threw before was crap. So I got creative and thought about the cutest most lovable animal I could imagine, an animal that would make me smile in a world of silence, hate and sadness.

I discovered the Bunnicorn. That’s right, a rabbit / unicorn hybrid exists, and it’s fucking EVERYTHING! So I found a few depictions online and drew my own version with delightful, subtle rainbow fur. I love him, but it’s possible he makes no sense.

You’d expect nothing less from me, right?

Be kind. Be a Bunnicorn. 🐰 🦄

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

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