I want to be kind, I really do. Kindness matters, I know this, I coach this, I speak about the power of kindness, and yet ― yes, and yet.
In my primary relationship (you know, that relationship with my husband), being kind seems to be in a wrestling match with being right. Being right just feels so good. It is a lustful emotion, an instinctual one, a need that can be sort of addiction.
One day my husband opened every kitchen drawer in search of a cheese slicer. As he is opened a bottom drawer, he finally found the slicer and jumped up and banged his head on the top drawer. My first instinct was to laugh; I wisely stifled that one, only to say, “Sweetheart, I told you not to leave the drawers open.”
This is a comment that doesn’t belong beside the word “sweetheart.” It is not kind to point out the obvious, especially as he is nursing his goose-egged head, but out it comes ― my instinct to be right, to say “I told you so” ― greater than my knowing of the power of kindness. I catch myself multiple times every day, torn between these two desires. Sadly I have to admit that being kind too often loses out to being right.
Although it takes more discipline to pull back and listen or not comment on someone’s mistake, it is far more powerful and, well, kind to hold back.
I see it in my kids. Their fiercely competitive nature turns into an endless sparring match of arguments and facts. They talk over each other in order to each make their argument and win their point. I hear myself talking at my daughter as she is talking at me, all wanting to be right about our perspective. Until I remember...
Until I remember that kindness matters. That although it takes more discipline to pull back and listen or not comment on someone’s mistake ― especially if you are a naturally competitive person ― it is far more powerful and, well, kind to hold back.
I see how much more open my daughter becomes when I acknowledge her point and hold back my further point. I observe how much my husband appreciates it when I ask him if he is OK rather than tell him he is an idiot for opening every drawer in the kitchen.
I have a theory. I think that the people who are most critical of others are often the most critical of themselves. I go through periods where my inner voice is constantly yammering about what I should be doing, how I could do better, how I am such an idiot for burning the granola and dropping the spare ribs in the sand (the granola was fine, but the dog lunged in and ate half the ribs). This inner voice is pretty darn mean, not somebody I want hanging out in my kitchen for more than a few minutes.
When this voice dominates my head, it has a tendency to become my outside voice as well. So as I am battling the voice of damnation in my head, I am letting it leak out to the people I love the most.
I am working on drowning out the drone of “not enough” inside my own head. Many days I can barely hear its insidious vocalization, other days it’s like a bad high school band pounding away inside my head. So every day I work on growing in ways that will make my self-criticism and perfectionism lesser aspects of my personality.
This is not going to change in a day, so here are some strategies I use to choose kindness over the need to be right:
Before you even get out of bed in the morning, reflect on what you are grateful for in your life. When we do this, we turn our attention on what is right in our life. Turning your focus into what is right allows us loosen our grip of “being right.”
When you are in a situation where you can make a statement and be right, ask yourself, “Is it more important to be loving in this situation or is it more important to be right?” Mental note: this is most challenging with our partners.
Being right has a lot to do with control. We might want to ask ourselves that bigger question: what in our life is making us feel out of control?
Take note. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Has something just stressed you out? It is at these times that we are most vulnerable to being hurtful to others; we are vulnerable to being right at all cost.
Remember that people in our lives are doing their best. I find thinking about this really connects me to empathy, which makes it easier to be kind.
Can you share when you had an opportunity to be right but chose to be kind instead? What was the outcome of that choice?
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