Strong to Be Kind

Thoughts on self-improvement, working hard and being nice to people

Words to live by.

For years my motto has been to work hard and be nice to people. I have been drawn to these words since the first time I read them in an Anthony Burrill poster. As most things I love, they are deceptively simple. They might pass as common sense but living up to them is more difficult than one might think — specially the niceness part. A few weeks ago a friend shared with me a parable about kindness that has been stuck in my mind since. It has helped me gain a deeper understanding about the concept so I can be nicer to people. It has affected me so much that I’ve told it to everyone that would listen and that’s what I’m going to do once again right now.

This is the story of two neighbors. One of them is the person we all would want to coexist with. He’s kind, generous, always willing to help others. He’s honest, well-intentioned and would be perfectly portrayed by James Stewart. The other neighbor is grumpy, ill-spirited, and reminds me of Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.

One day, the Jack Nicholson character knocks on James Stewart’s door. He announces he has a present and gives James a box. His neighbor opens the nicely wrapped present but turns out the box is filled with manure. James doesn’t seem troubled by the prank. He thanks Jack and asks him to wait there while he goes pick something up — a present he wants to give him in return.

All the apartments in their block have a small backyard. Jack’s is dirty and unkempt, with old things scattered around and what seems like all the neighborhood’s vermin. On the other hand, James’ has some fruit trees and beautiful, lush plants. With the best of his garden, he puts together a gorgeous bouquet of flowers and adds it to a fruit basket.

When James offers his present, Jack is suspicious and thoroughly inspects it. He can’t stop thinking that there must be something wrong with it, some kind of punch line, a joke at his expense. Finally he asks James why on Earth would he give him this beautiful present after the only thing he was given was shit. James shrugs and replies “You give what you’ve got”. Fade to black.

I’ve never been a particularly angry person, but this story expanded my perspective on kindness. When someone is mean to me, what do I get by being mean in return? Nothing. If the only thing they can give me is crap, they have enough on their plate already. What’s more important, I don’t want to be like them. If I can be strong enough to be kind instead, this might help them be a little bit happier — at the very least, it won’t make me more bitter. Turns out the two aspects of my motto (working hard and being nice) are more related than I thought.

“Choosing kindness can turn into a habit — until one day, it’s such a reflex that there isn’t any other option.”

Recently I re-took the NERIS Type Explorer Test. I was curious to know if the result would be the same as the one I got one year ago. A lot has happened in these 12 months but my type was the same (INFJ-T). I read through all the explanations again to see how much I still empathized with them, and what I thought was the most accurate part was something I hadn’t noticed the first time around — my strategy: constant self-improvement. In other words, working hard on myself.

I firmly believe in ceaselessly working to become a better version of myself in all aspects. Actually I can’t conceive my life otherwise. If I don’t move forward, I suffocate. To make sure this doesn’t happen, I take good care of my mind, my body and my emotional wellbeing.

My body is the simplest aspect to look after: I have a clear yet flexible eating policy, an undemanding exercise routine and a 7 hour sleep average. Nothing too fancy or complicated, just a few principles that are easy to follow. They help me start the days off on the right foot and keep me healthy but still add pleasure to my everyday life.

My mind has also been pretty low-maintenance since I identified what makes me feel best with myself: learning non-stop. I am lucky to be quite curious so there are countless things that interest me and that I’m excited to learn. For instance, languages fascinate me, skills are never enough and recipes come to my mind as effortlessly as breathing.

Does it sound like I have everything under control? I don’t. With my body and mind taken care of, now comes the difficult part. Even though I am open to changing my mind about almost anything, I like to be consistent. But until one year ago I wasn’t being so. My emotional health was being neglected until I decided to start taking better care of it. The first step was acknowledging the huge impact it has in my life. The second, starting to really work on it. Thanks to therapy, I am leaving some nasty habits behind, learning to be kinder to myself, writing my thoughts every day and being honest like there’s no tomorrow. Without going into too much detail, I see it as another means of self-improvement and a gift to my future self.

Being kind to others and myself requires strength but becoming emotionally stronger is yet another way to be and feel better — one more impactful than being physically healthy or gaining a new skill. It helps me be prepared to face anything. It’s a happiness insurance policy. No matter what happens, I’ll be okay. If it’s good, I will be ready to take the chance. If it’s not, I’ll get over it. Seneca said that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” The number of chances I get is out of my control, so when I do get them I want to be as prepared as possible — physically, mentally and emotionally.