The importance of staying kind in a city that isn’t always kind back.
By Ellen Smith, Storyteller with RU Student Life.
It starts at six in the morning where commuter culture reminds you not to make eye contact and that everyone has somewhere more important to be than you. By seven you’re off the train and grabbing a bite to eat where the over-tired, over-worked employee at Tim Horton’s gives you the wrong coffee, or the wrong sandwich, and talks down to you as if it was your mistake. By 8 am you’re in class and your professor doesn’t seem to understand that you have a million other assignments to do. Ten, and you’re walking out of lecture hall, being pushed and shoved by fellow peers who don’t seem to care that you have places to go and people to see, too. Eleven, and you’re ready for lunch but surrounded by men and women in business suits, and no matter how fast you walk, you’re always in their way. At three you’re heading back to lecture, and you can’t help but notice the judgmental looks that your fellow city dwellers are giving you. “Is there something on my face?” “Is my outfit okay?” “Why is that guy in the car honking his horn at me when it’s my right of way?” You’re back in a busy lecture hall where every one has their head in their note pad. Five and you’re back in the commuter rush. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t smile. Just get home.
Coming from a town where people leave their doors unlocked at night, and where that extra egg you need for your cookies is always a friendly knock at a neighbour’s door away, adjusting to the city was a difficult move for me to make. I remember walking down Yonge Street and wondering why everyone looked so angry. I remember feeling confused when I asked for milk in my coffee and the employee replied “not my problem.” I remember when I started to feel as though people who refused to return my smile, or enthusiasm for the morning were not worth wasting my time on. Why should I be kind to people who don’t return my kindness?
The truth is, some people are easier to be kind to than others. If your sister is sick, you instinctually want to help her feel better, by bringing her soup, or telling her a joke. When your friend is going through a break up, you pick up the phone to see how they’re coping, or hang out with them to take their mind off it. Kindness is easy when we know the kindness will be returned.
But what about that man who pushed you on the street car, or the woman who stole your taxi cab, or the store worker who wouldn’t assist you because she knew you couldn’t afford the shirt you were trying on? Sometimes it just feels as though those mean people deserve that judgmental glare, or rude remark you give them. It’s easy to be kind when we want to be, but the kindness that truly matters, is being kind when you don’t have to be.
I’m not encouraging you to accept unwarranted criticism, or harassment, but I am encouraging you to take a step back and think about why someone refuses to be kind.
When someone is having a bad day, it’s instinctual to be snappy, or rude; I’m guilty of this, in fact, I don’t know anyone who isn’t. When I’m mean to another person, it’s because I’m hurting, and whether it be subconsciously, or intentional, I want to bring them down, too. The same goes for nearly everyone.
Humans are not inherently mean, or horrible, we only act that way because deep down something is hurting us. When you’re upset about something, it’s hard to focus on anything but that sadness. It’s hard to remember that the person who was rude to you is probably having a worse morning than you. That person who disrespected you probably doesn’t need to hear that rude comment you snapped back at them because they’re already saying it to themselves. When we continue this childish defensive mechanism of fighting fire with fire, everyone gets hurt.
If you really want to make the world a better place through kindness, then be kind to every one, regardless of whether or not they reciprocate that kindness. Continue smiling even if no one is smiling back. Bite your tongue if your own insecurities tell you to lash out at someone else. True kindness shouldn’t be about making yourself feel better, it should be about selflessly wanting to share love with someone else.
The truth is that some people are just easier to be kind to than others, but everyone is deserving of kindness. Kindness is both easy, and difficult, but when done right, kindness is both infectious, and beautiful.