Lighten the load with kindness
By Kathleen Quinn Votaw
Everyone has a cross to bear. Sometimes it’s short term, sometimes it’s lifelong. It can be anything from your boss pointing out your failures, to getting through a high pressure project, to having no job at all. Or it could be worrying about your child’s grades, a strained relationship, a loved one’s terminal illness, or your own chronic debilitating pain.
Depending on our personality and the circumstance, we may hide our troubles and pain with lies or silence, be outwardly angry or bitter, or find some other possibly unhealthy way to cope. There are endless crosses to bear, and no matter how much they weigh us down or how we deal with them, their true impact on us is usually invisible to everyone else.
How often have we heard, or said, “But she looks so good …” without thinking about what might be going on inside of her? The Parker CO nonprofit, Invisible Disabilities Association, IDA, was founded to educate families, friends and employers about how ongoing illness and pain affect people, even if a person doesn’t look sick or in pain. They also provide simple, pragmatic ways to respond and support people with chronic conditions. They are a much-needed resource.
There’s probably no comparable organization to help us understand and support people who are just plain having a bad day for any number of hidden reasons. For that, we need to look deeply into ourselves and dust off our values.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Though each of us is part of the walking wounded at least some of the time, we tend to forget all of the things others may be carrying on their backs that affect their mood, behavior, or performance. When someone doesn’t meet our expectations we typically jump to judgment of the “rude” person who accidentally lets the door close in our face or the “lazy” food server who doesn’t immediately take our order. When it comes to understanding and reacting to the crosses that others might be bearing, the Golden Rule often disappears.
Assuming the worst (that person is rude or lazy) is quick and easy. Responding with empathy and kindness takes some thought and self-control. The value of empathy goes beyond understanding another person’s feelings, it’s also about what you do as a result of them. Empathy connects, builds trust, and heals. Responding with kindness helps you remain congruent with your values and raises the behavioral standards of those around you. Most important, when you respond to people with empathy and kindness, you retain everyone’s dignity—including your own.
As psychologist Carl Rogers said, “When someone really hears you without passing judgment on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!” We all know what that feels like. What we need to remember is to do the same for others.
I have only to turn to my wonderful father, Johnny Quinn, to understand what that looks like: “If you can’t help someone, don’t hurt them.”