Idealistic concepts don’t always play out as we hope. Everyone says that we should treat others how we want to be treated, kill people with kindness, and be honest with how we feel (in a respectful way), but do those thing really make situations better? For the most part, sure. If we all ran around kicking people in the shins and lying about our thoughts, life would be pretty painful and super confusing. However, as with most assertions, there are exceptions to these poster-perfect ideals.
For instance, I enjoy when people give me gigantic hugs— even strangers I barely know. This is because I’m a hugger. So, in theory, if I treated everyone how I want to be treated, I would hug anyone I’m introduced to outside of work. Maybe at work, too. Could be a fun social experiment. But the thing is, not everyone is a hugger. Many people prefer to keep their personal bubble unpopped until we can recall eachother’s names upon a second meeting or, at the very least, become Facebook friends. Along the same lines, I also like being coddled when I’m sick, when people continuously refill my wine glass without asking, and eating alone for at least one meal a day. Therefore, I seem condescending or overbearing when treating people like infants when they’re ill, look like an enabler/alcoholic when drinking with funsuckers people who only want one glass, and come across like a beyotch when I don’t invite my coworkers to lunch. I’m just trying to treat people how I want to be treated! So much for that grand idea.
Moving on to killing people with kindness. It’s definitely better than killing people with swords or poison, no question. It also beats tearing people apart with vicious verbal attacks or slowly drowning them in passive aggression. In general, I’m all about kindness. Big fan. That being said, some people mistake kindness for weakness (back me up Rihanna/Paul McCartney/Kanye). Many times, I’ve found that if I continue to be kind to someone who is actively mean or cuts me down, they only gain more fuel for their behavior. Sometimes you have to shoot them an “I will cut you” face, and they’ll all of a sudden treat you with a little more respect. I’m not saying it’s better to be feared than to be liked, but when people realize that you’re not going to sit back and take abuse, they might be a little more prone to changing their behavior. By all means—please continue to be kind to people. I highly suggest giving kindness a whirl before busting out the Victoria Grayson death stare.
Now to address my personal favorite slogan that is often better in theory: Be honest with how you feel.
Raise your hand if this has ever backfired on you.
People say that they would rather you tell them what you’re thinking in a respectful and gentle manner than let something build up, be misleading, or vent behind their backs. Maybe being honest is for the best in the long run, but I’ve learned that it’s not always the most beneficial tactic for staying on great terms with someone. Example: I don’t believe in slow fading people you have spent time getting to know in a romantic fashion, but who you don’t ultimately click with. Everyone advises “be upfront about how you feel, because slowly backing off of communication only confuses or frustrates the other person.” Therefore, I’m very frank with men that I’m not interested in. If we’ve gone out once or twice and I’m just not feeling it, I will say so— nicely, of course. In most cases, these guys get really offended or simply never respond (if via text) in a cold shoulder act of defiance. Ideally, they’d respond with “Thanks for your honesty. It was nice getting to know you!” But that has only happened two or three times in my experience. Generally, they’re not so pleased.
Outside of dating relationships, honesty can have the opposite effect of what you’re going for, as well. To protect friendships from annoyance-turned-animosity, we should tell our friends when they do something that bothers us, right? I’m not talking about telling them that the sound of their laugh makes you wish they had a mute button or asking them to stop dancing like a maniac at the club. (Is clubbing still a thing?) Expecting someone to change his or her personality on account of your friendship is probably a sign that you A.) shouldn’t be friends with them to begin with, and B.) are a future bridezilla who will require her bridesmaids to go on a diet. Get a hold of yourself. When it comes to things friends do that potentially hurt your feelings or make your life difficult, however, you should tell them honestly where you’re coming from instead of harboring resentment or gossiping behind their back, correct? This is another situation where the answer is “yes” only some of the time. I don’t think you should ever speak poorly of someone behind their back because that does absolutely no one any good. Neither does harboring resentment. Easier said than done, I know. Even so, sometimes bringing something to someone’s attention will end up creating tension between the two of you rather than ironing out problem. If someone doesn’t respond to your honesty with the reaction you hoped for, it doesn’t make them a bad person, but certainly creates an awkward divide that may or may not ever completely go away. So, as with the other idealistic concepts mentioned, I suggest treading carefully and only bearing your honest feelings if you’re prepared for a less-than-ideal reaction.
Before you get too depressed by my warnings about perfectly wonderful notions, let me pull it all together for a greater, constructive message. The reason you have to be careful when implementing these concepts is because every single person, relationship, and situation is unique. In life, we so easily expect others to be the same as we are, since the way we think and behave is first(?) or second nature. It’s no easy feat to understand someone else’s perspective or wishes. Even with positive intentions—like treating others how you wanted to be treated—you have to remember that what you want isn’t always what other people want. In killing people with kindness, you have to keep in mind that some people respond to kindness or harshness differently, perhaps because of a past experience or different upbringing. Responses to honesty may not be what you expect because people won’t always be able to fully understand where you’re coming from, because—news flash—they’re not extensions of you (and vice versa). And sometimes, it’s just plain hard to hear something negative, like a person you like is no longer interested or a friend is hurt or frustrated. I think it’s normal for some of those reactions to be a few notches short of enthusiastic.
All in all, the message here is quite positive: Acknowledging differences among us will not only help us to challenge our own views, but can alleviate some distress when well-intended implementations of poster-perfect ideals go haywire. We’ll never be able to get it completely right in terms of not ever offending, hurting, or annoying other people, nor will we ever find the smoothest way to manage how other people treat us, but if you stick with truly caring about people and remembering that we’re all different, most things should turn out just fine.