On Being Nice

Actually, stay awhile.

Maybe it’s because I’m really sensitive to everything these days, what with the Bebe hormones coursing through my veins.

Maybe it’s because the holidays are coming and a lot of people are talking about benevolence and kindness because it’s the time of year in which we are obligated to do so.

Maybe it’s that cloak of anonymity people put on that allows them to say rude, hurtful things online and use crude gestures while driving.

But to me it seems like we need to reorient and remember that we’re living among human beings who started their lives out in the exact same way that we did: cold, naked, crying, and vulnerable.  And all those human beings deserve courtesy. They may have done absolutely nothing whatsoever to earn our kindness, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with our granting it.

And it’s not about begrudgingly smiling at someone through clenched teeth when they offend you, simply because you think that’s the right thing to do, although it’s a start. It’s about having an attitude of peace and openness, no matter what situation you find yourself in.

Few people would disagree that it’s the most vulnerable among us who need respect the most but who are least likely to get it. But thinking and actually practicing that are two very different things. On Saturday, B and I went to Subway; yeah, I was having a very pregnant day. When we left the sandwich shop, a family of four was leaving at the same time. They walked to their car which was parked next to ours and the mom said,

“Jeffrey, if you (f-word) sit in my seat again, I will seriously whip your ass right here.”

I was jarred. How could a parent say such a hateful thing to her five-year-old? How can a child hear that kind of thing and feel secure?

When we got in our car, I said to B, “Let’s be really sure to talk to Bebe like that all the time after she’s born so she’ll always know that threatening the people who are closest to you is a sure way to demonstrate your love. And dominance.”

He looked at me with That Look that says, “You don’t know what the situation is. Have a little benevolence.”

I kept thinking about it for the rest of the day. How can you talk to a child that way? I don’t care what kind of a miserable day/life that woman was having; there is no excuse for that kind of hatefulness, especially when it’s aimed at a kid. And how could B not be more upset? I was fuming.

I started planning the post I would write to obliquely get even with that mom who clearly didn’t know how to parent whatsoever. It was going to be really cathartic for me.  I am the one who matters the most in the whole situation, after all.

But this morning, after thinking all day Sunday about how we (key word there) should go through the motions of being kind, benevolent, and understanding, and how it’s the people who are hardest to love that need love the most, it finally occurred to me that I really had it all backwards. Now is not the time for blanket statements on how all humanity should do something. Now is the time for me to start taking my own advice and applying my own lofty ideals to my perception.

It’s time for me to love the woman in the Subway parking lot even though it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean I have to excuse her for the words she used, but it does mean that I shouldn’t judge her based on them. Because judging her was exactly what I was doing. When I heard her say those words, a big mixed bag of assumptions about who she was, what her habits were, and how much school she had completed immediately popped into my head. Those assumptions served as an excuse for me to foment hostility towards her.

Hostility doesn’t feel good. Being nice does feel good. However, I don’t think that’s why I should behave or react a certain way. That seems a teensy bit too subjective. I am going to be nicer and more forgiving because I really have no good reason not to. I’ve been the woman in the Subway parking lot before and I’ll be her again. We both came out of our mothers screaming, cold, and vulnerable, and our mothers still loved us. We both deserve love and respect.

Let me just put it out there that this has been hard for me to write. How do you put into words why exactly you should be kind without feeling like a fraud and a hypocrite the entire time, knowing full well that you fail every day trying to be “good” because your heart wasn’t in the right place to begin with?

I’ll let you know when I find out. In the meantime, I’m just going to trust that Love really is the guiding principle. It’s worked for, oh, a couple of people.

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20 comments

  1. I fall short every single day, too. And I have said things to my kids that I was later so ashamed of that I had to go an apologize and beg forgiveness. I don’t always do myself proud.

    1. I admire you for asking their forgiveness though. There have been so many times that I’ve done someone wrong and adamantly refused to admit it and apologize. Parenthood is going to teach me to seriously swallow my pride.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Samantha · · Reply

    Before I had my first child I swore I would never use the statement I’ll give you something to cry about. I reasoned that obviously the child already had something to cry about. 5 kids later the statement flies out of my mouth without hesitation. I have cried, pleaded, threatened my children. If you do it one more time your gonna get it. Get what exactly? In my kids case cellphones, electronics, cable….. I have locked myself in my bedroom and screamed into a pillow. I have counted to ten and walked away. I have had serious mommy fail moments. I can probably tell you about each one in verbatim. Why because afterwards I beat myself up for them. Mommy guilt. I’ve been that woman in Subway. Maybe with less colorful language.

    1. Thank you for commenting! I’m slowly beginning to realize that parenting really will bring out the worst (and best) in me. I know I’ll be there too. Heck, I’m there on a daily basis already!

  3. Beautifully expressed. I am reminded that this is what forgiveness is all about, both forgiving of others, as well as of ourselves. Awareness and patience are key. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. You haven’t had your kid yet so I think you are still in that state where you think you will be the perfect mommy and never get mad and stuff. I was there…until about 5 minutes after my kids came out of the womb. Now, we don’t swear at them….but God knows how many times I wish I did. The problem is we expect kids to have the same logic and rationalization ability that some of us adults have. Yet we end up being just like them in the end and padding the pockets of multiple therapists. Speaking of which, I need to see how my son’s appointment went today.

    Rob, The Mainland

    1. To be sure, I NEVER thought that I would be the perfect mommy. I know I will get mad and let loose on the poor kid. The point I’m trying to make is that I know we are all human and susceptible to moments of intense frustration that will doubtless affect those around us. It’s important for us not to judge people when they’re having one of those moments because we’re all equally prone to them.

      1. I think that many people aren’t prepared for what having a kid does to their lives. I think based on the way you write that you will make for a great mother. The problem is I think that all too often people see their kids as a burden rather than a blessing. Raising kids is the hardest job on the planet, but also one of the most rewarding. It’s too bad some people don’t see it that way.

        1. You are absolutely right about it being hard! I’m not even “actively” parenting this baby yet and sometimes I feel that I may lose it. Hopefully she’ll forgive me when I fail her.

  5. How thoughtful of you not to just run with the rant. It’s the easy path, but sometimes the hard path takes us to a better place. I think you got to the better place.

    You are going to be such a great mom!

    1. Every single day I hope I’m getting there. It’s fun and good to be a cynic sometimes but every so often I have to get real with myself.

      Thanks for coming by! We’ve missed you :)

  6. Reminded me of my daughter’s favourite words from ‘Bambi’ – If you can’t say something nice don’t say nothin at all…
    Hostility doesn’t feel good. Being nice does feel good. – I shall take this as my thought for the day. :)

    1. You’re daughter’s got it right! And so did Disney (for once).

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. This is so good. I was planning on writing a post on a similar topic. I hope mine turns out as well-written as yours :)

    1. Thanks. It was actually after reading your last several posts that I was inspired to write something a little more serious and not so snarky. I loved your post on mommy blogging; so honest and real and just awesome :)

  8. In this situation, the one that I have compassion for is the child, trapped with a behavior model that will probably be repeated into the next generation. I’m not a brave person, so doubt that I would have the courage to say to the swearing lady, “Hey, that’s not a nice way to speak to your child.” Saying something may not change the behavior, but the child will hear that an adult cared and that the mom’s behavior is not OK.

    I also wanted to let you know that I have presented you with The Liebster Award for blogging. I enjoy reading about your journey to motherhood. You can find out more info on the Liebster on my blog.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I agree with you; he’s the one with the biggest disadvantage in the whole scenario. How does a child hear those words and not get wired for stress and insecurity? It’s so uncomfortable to be the stranger looking in.

      Thank you for the award! I really appreciate it! :D And congrats to YOU for receiving it as well!

  9. I really love this post and completely agree with you. I have tried for years (despite how much I want to murder the cast of The Real World) to become the person you just described and love the Subway parking lot lady. I have to say, though, that being on the verge of becoming an honest-to-goodness PARENT, has made me a LOT more conscious of just how important loving that lady is. I want my child to love that lady too. Even though she really should behave better. (But seriously, what if the Subway parking lot lady is pregnant too? And what if Subway is not what she is craving at all? What if HER pregnancy poison is a giant t-bone steak? What if she brought that five-year-old to Subway because he/she really, really wanted to go there and have a melt? I know that not having MY crazy pregnancy craving when I want it, kind of turns me into that lady…) I think we all have the potential to be that lady, but I also think that the more aware we become of that potential, the more empathetic we can be to her. Maybe she just needs a hug. Or a T-Bone steak. Good for you for recognizing all of that. (And now I need a sandwich.)

    1. Yes! I have felt really blah about this post all week because 1, the incident shook me up and 2, I didn’t think I effectively conveyed what I wanted to say in it. Thanks for getting it :) You are very encouraging!

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