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Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

I know a lot of people who don’t have much self-esteem.

I used to be one of them, in fact.

Having low self-esteem can be a self-perpetuating cycle. You feel bad about yourself, and so you look outside of yourself to feel better. You look for validation from other people. You care a lot about what other people think. You are more easily suggestible. You worry that people don’t like you, and of course you’re worried because you haven’t learned to like yourself! In extreme cases, you let someone new in your life (a significant other, a boss, a close friend), and your identity changes radically because of that relationship.

(Note: I’m not talking about small changes and compromises. Those are normal. New people encourage us to try new things, to learn new things, to think about things differently, and that’s great. But have you ever known someone who got into a new relationship and then it was almost like they were a different person? That’s what I’m talking about.)

The problem is, getting external validation from other people is never enough. It never lasts. It’s like putting a band-aid over a large gaping wound that needs stitches. Maybe it stops the blood flow, maybe it keeps you from dying, but it’s not going to heal right. It’s probably not going to heal at all. And so then you just always have this inflamed wound, causing you constant pain, ripping open again at the most inconvenient times.

But it’s not so obvious with self-esteem. I’ve seen people who want more money, more advancement in their career, more friends, more compliments, more awards. And it’s not that wanting any of these things is inherently bad. The problem occurs because all of these things, if you achieve them, do make you feel really good for a short period of time. So it feels like they work, and you stay caught in the cycle.

Meanwhile, if you don’t achieve these things that you want, if you fail (because failure is, after all, a part of most successes) or even if it simply takes you a bit longer than planned, it can damage your already vulnerable self-esteem even more. Which also keeps you caught in the cycle.

Plus the genuine way OUT of the cycle feels…well, it feels corny. Corny and fake and maybe even a little bit embarrassing. It’s not something our culture teaches us is important. It’s something that’s easy to pay lip service to but a lot more difficult to internalize.

So what is the way out? It is in cultivating a relationship with yourself. A loving, kind, respectful relationship. A relationship in which you get to know who you are, and you take a look at all those wounds, and you learn how to love yourself anyway, in spite of whatever flaws you find, in spite of whatever has happened in the past, in spite of failure or disappointments or trauma or mistakes. Maybe even BECAUSE of those things, if you’re feeling especially ambitious.

Myself with myself!

Myself with myself!

This can be a difficult thing to do. Your jerkbrain has been getting a lot of practice saying mean things about you. So you have to institute habits to get practice saying loving things instead. You have to practice listening to yourself and learning who you are. You have to practice looking at your shortcomings and then being gentle about them. Meditation, affirmations, mindfulness practice, journaling, stopping and thinking before making decisions, catching negative self-talk and re-casting it, giving kind pep talks, taking care of yourself so you feel better: all these things can help.

And eventually the idea that it doesn’t matter what other people think is not just a thing you know you’re supposed to think. You actually believe it. Not that other people aren’t important, that’s not it, but that you are also important, and you are, after all, the main character of your own life, so you are perfectly entitled to be in the driver’s seat. Other people’s opinions still matter, and listening to the people you are close to is still important, but ultimately you will make up your own mind.

Your feeling of self-worth is no longer strongly tied to anything or anyone but yourself. It is yours and yours alone.

And just as you would do for a relationship with your significant other or a close friend, you keep working on your relationship with yourself. You keep giving it attention and love. Sometimes you might slip a bit, you might get busy and caught up in other things, but then you’ll come back and you’ll remember and you’ll do the relationship maintenance that will keep it strong and growing.

Self-esteem comes from yourself (hence the word SELF-esteem). No one else can give it to you. And in times of hardship, you will reach for that relationship, that core of who you are, and instead of bringing you down further, it will give you solace and strength.

My relationship with myself is the most important relationship I’ve ever had.

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I write a lot about friendship.

A few days ago I saw someone share an article about friendship, and someone else responded to their post by saying that this was literally the first article about friendship they’d ever read. This made me feel good that I’m already writing about it, and also sad there is a relative dearth of information and thought about friendship out there.

When I write about boundaries and friendships, I know some of you are wondering what kinds of boundaries are common to need to set in the context of friendship. I think this varies a lot from person to person and from friendship to friendship, but I do have some general thoughts on what I look for in my friends and what kinds of boundaries sometimes come up.

Kinds of issues that come up in friendships that sometimes require boundary setting/enforcing:

  • Responding to invitations
  • Responding to favor requests
  • Having to cancel plans due to illness or emergency
  • Arranging logistics (including scheduling, timing, transport, choosing restaurants, choosing activities, issues of payment)
  • Addressing mobility/health issues
  • Asking for empathy instead of advice
  • Negotiating the flow of the house guest (either being one or hosting one)
  • Figuring out frequency of communication/visits, response time, safeguarding work time, etc.
  • Seeking safe spaces at public (or semi-public) events
  • Dealing with problematic behavior in communities and friend groups
  • Responding to sexual requests
  • Responding to peer pressure
  • Asking for and giving emotional support
  • Speaking up on issues of social justice
  • Asking for consideration
  • Taking someone into your confidence

I’ll be honest for you: I look for friends who don’t need much boundary enforcing because that’s the part I find the most difficult and tiring. I can often set a boundary now, especially if I have a little time to consider, but enforcing it against push-back wears me out extremely fast. And no wonder. Boundary enforcing means your boundary has already been crossed (or is not being taken seriously after being stated), and it often involves hurt feelings, or at the very least disappointment, especially if it’s a repetitive issue. So it’s much easier to reach a point of diminishing returns if you’re having to enforce regularly. (Also, one way of enforcing is to introduce space into the friendship, and if you have to introduce enough space, you’re not interacting much with that person anymore anyway, so selecting for low levels of enforcement tends to happen at least somewhat organically.)

I look for friends to whom I can say no. Sometimes that will be no to a favor, and sometimes that will be no to an invitation. In an ideal world, I could say yes to everything, but the reality is that I have lots of commitments to fulfill, as does any adult: in my case, to my work, to my own physical and mental well-being, to my dog, to my boyfriend, etc. I have idiosyncracies to work around for maximum well-being, like my general dislike of driving too much, especially in traffic, and my sleep issues. I have budgetary restraints. I get sick and injured. All of these things mean that sometimes I have to say no, and I look for friends who will understand that it’s not personal and that I would help them or hang out with them if I could.

I look for friends who will make a commensurate effort. This doesn’t have to be equal in an obvious sense: for example, I have friends who always come over to my place and other friends who I always visit at their places, and as long as everyone is cool with that, it works fine. But both people have to be willing to find time for each other and to care about how the other person is doing. And both people have to be getting some of their friendship needs met.

I look for friends who are generally kind. I used to think, oh, it’s okay if my friend is sort of an asshole, as long as they treat me well. But I’m not as on board with that line of thinking anymore because it’s so easy for that kind of behavior to eventually spread out to include you. Obviously no one is perfect, but I think kindness is probably the most important trait I look for in friends.

And in that vein, my closest friends are generally pretty good at empathy. I become closest to people with whom I can be honest and genuine about myself and my life without fear of judgment, with whom I can share openly and who will share openly with me, who can listen well, and where there is interest and care on both sides.

Finally, one of the great part about friendships I’ve learned while negotiating these things is that they can be flexible. They do not need to be all things, all at once. While my closest friendships are usually built on empathy, I also have great friendships based upon a shared interest (shocking, I know!) and great friendships based on compatible senses of humor. I have friends who I get to see one-on-one and friends that I almost always see in groups. I have friends who I talk to all the time and friends I only get to see once a year. I have friends who I don’t ask for certain things because I know they cannot give them to me, and I appreciate what they do bring to the friendship and ask for those other things elsewhere.

I used to think friendship came in one certain mold, but in learning the many ways friendship can present itself, I’ve found a lot more interest and connection with the world. I thought by setting boundaries I’d be limiting myself, but instead my boundaries allow me to be more present and more accepting of who my friends are.

Even myself. Maybe especially myself.

Oh look, it's my best doggie friend.

Oh look, it’s my best doggie friend.

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One of my most popular posts is one I wrote back in September of 2012, entitled “Nice vs. Kind.” And this week I received a note about it from a person I recently met, so I thought it would be interesting to provide an update to you all.

In the post, I talked about the distinction I perceived between being nice and being kind, and I talked about how, while I was making the shift, it could sometimes be difficult for me to be kind at all, because then I’d just fall right back into being nice instead, which was something I was trying to change.

What I neglected to say was it was also difficult to be kind because I was so angry from the decades of not getting most of my needs met and receiving repeated messages of how unimportant I was. In other words, I had to learn to be kind to myself before being able to easily be kind to other people too.

Fast forward almost three years, and it has definitely become easier for me. I’ve created a kind of checklist for dealing with situations that feel fraught and involve setting boundaries. (Because honestly, the rest of the time, it’s not very hard for me to be kind.) This thought process has become mostly habitual at this point.

Photo Credit: a.drian via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: a.drian via Compfight cc

Step 1: Figure out what I need/want.

If I really don’t care, then I get to be laid back, which is lovely.

If I don’t know, then I usually need some time. I’ve gotten better at simply saying I don’t know and getting the time I need to figure things out. Sometimes, when I’m really confused or emotional, I also need to talk things over with one or more friends to understand what it is I really need.

Step 2: Be clear and firm.

Step 3: Be kind.

Steps 2 and 3 are in that order for a reason. They reflect my priority, which is to be clear and firm FIRST, and kind SECOND. This helps prevent me from accidentally falling into niceness and wishy-washy-ness. It also reminds me not to soften or change what I need in order to be nicer, which is pretty much always an idea that crosses my mind at some point. (The Step 1 checking in with friends part is pretty helpful for this too, as it helps me not be too nice to begin with and builds in some accountability.)

I should note that if for some reason Step 3 is not possible, that doesn’t give an automatic pass to being UNkind. In general it is possible to be clear and firm without decimating someone in the process. To me, the main drawback of not being able to engage with Step 3 is it can feel a bit…robotic, but if that’s what necessary to express myself clearly and firmly, well, it’s not so bad. And luckily it doesn’t come up very often.

I should also note that following these steps doesn’t instantly solve all my interpersonal problems. The fact is, if someone wants something and I decide I don’t want to give that thing, then sometimes no amount of clarity or firmness or kindness is going to change the fact that the person isn’t going to be happy.

Still, each of these qualities serves its purpose. I practice clarity so I can get my actual point across with, I hope, fewer misunderstandings. I practice firmness so I’m less likely to have to revisit the same conversation and issue repeatedly or have someone try to change my mind. And the kindness? I believe it is ultimately helpful to the other person, and also, it’s simply the way I want to be.

“Be firm but kind, Amy.” This is the advice that runs through my head now. It isn’t foolproof, but it helps me remember how I want to be.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and loss and inspiration and kindness.

How are you going to tie all of those ideas together in an essay, Amy? Yeah, I’m not really sure either. But I am going to try.

When I first checked my phone on Tuesday morning, I learned that fantasy writer Graham Joyce had died. I felt sad. Sad because many of my friends are grieving the loss of someone important to them. Sad because the one time I met Graham, he had been kind and generous to me.

Sad because then I thought about Jay, and I miss him. I don’t talk about it much. I’m not sure there’s very much to say. The sadness is here, inside of me. That’s all.

We try so hard to distract ourselves, and others, from the reality of this sadness. We want so badly to fix, to take away pain, whether it’s our own pain or somebody else’s. Distraction, cheering up, intellectual discussions about philosophical implications.

But at some point we have to stop all of that and just sit. Sit with sadness. Sit with whatever emotions there are. Turn off the fixer, because there is no fixing death. There is no fixing loss. There is no fixing of so many things.

Sometimes there is someone who is willing to sit with us so we will not be alone. But we are not always so lucky. And sometimes being alone makes it easier. Either way, at some point, the sitting must occur.

Graham Joyce’s final blog post is being widely quoted because it is brilliant. This is my favorite part:

“Actually I know what the dragonfly said.  It whispered: I have inhabited this earth for three hundred million years old and I can’t answer these mysteries; just cherish it all.

And in turn the Heron asks, with shocking clarity as it flies from right to left and left to right: why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?”

Cherish. There is so much that is beautiful and good in the world, and it deserves the attention. It is so easy to miss seeing it; it’s so easy for it to be drowned out by the ugly and the ignorant and the damaging. But the good still matters; it keeps us going.

Inspire. We all need a hand up from time to time, or a new idea, or a fresh way of seeing. We help each other to be creative and kind and informed and engaged. We help each other to be better than we could be on our own.

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Eden-Lys via Compfight cc

I’m reminded of another quote I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s from E. Lockhart’s novel We Were Liars: “Be a little kinder than you have to.”

That’s it. Be a little kinder. I hear these words in my head several times a week. They help me get out of my head when I’m about to stand up for myself or deliver bad news. They help me get past the empathy response that encourages me NOT to stand up for myself, because they give me a guide for how to behave that honors that empathy while also taking care of myself. They remind me that I can be clear and firm and honest without being unnecessarily cruel.

And they encourage me to a little kinder to myself as well.

Cherish, inspire, and be a little kinder when you can. Yes. That is what I’d like to spend my life doing.

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I’ve been seeing a fair amount of talk about GISHWHES in my social feeds. But not random and silly requests for help or funny stories, unfortunately. Instead people are talking about GISHWHES and harassment. And harassment of my SF&F writer community, no less. Here are the details.

This makes me sad. Being harassed sucks and is a big deal. Being inundated with requests sucks too. Some people have trouble saying no, and that can make this kind of thing particularly exhausting. I suspect that if one achieves a certain level of fame (or at least recognition), it becomes imperative to learn how to say no just in order to maintain basic emotional stability. But even so, not everyone will be great at learning this, and people will be at different stages of the learning curve too.

And when they do say no and the askers are rude and harassing about it? Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.

This makes me think about the problems of scale. Because coming up with items for a local scavenger hunt that involves relatively few people who are probably all connected in some way (they work for the same company, for example, or they belong to the same community organization) is very different from coming up with items for thousands of people world-wide. (Wikipedia tells me GISHWHES had 14,580 participants in 2012, and I’d guess that number has grown.)

Additionally, when organizing such an event for a smaller organization, all the people are known to one another, and therefore they hold each other accountable to a certain standard of behavior. But when the numbers increase and there isn’t the same social pressure present, the likelihood of having at least a few people who think it’s okay to behave like jerks increases drastically. Add to this the sheer number of people making requests to the most famous authors, and problems aren’t difficult to imagine.

So while some of us are busy creating a stream of tweets rhapsodizing about dandelions (which it sounds like are not in season right now anyway), there are others who are being rude and unkind, during an event that is supposed to be fostering kindness. Which is really unfortunate.

All of the asking required by participating in GISHWHES also has me pondering the nature of asking. I was raised firmly in Guess Culture and have been gradually shifting closer to Ask Culture in order to achieve more balance. Quick summary: Ask Culture people ask for what they want/need and are totally fine being told no. Guess Culture people usually only ask when they’re pretty sure the answer is going to be yes, and Guess Culture involves a lot of reading social cues. Keep in mind this isn’t a black and white contrast, but a spectrum of behavior and culture. (Want to know more about Ask Vs. Guess Culture? Have some links!) So I’ve thought about asking quite a lot over the past couple of years.

 

Here are my own guidelines for asking:

1. Phrase your request as clearly as possible. Include relevant details, and communicate which aspects are flexible.

2. Do not assume the person will say yes. Do not phrase your request in such a way that it appears you are assuming the person will say yes.

3. Be gracious and polite if the person says no. If you aren’t sure if you will be okay with a no, that probably means you shouldn’t be asking (barring emergencies, of course).

4. If you suspect you might be dealing with a person from guess culture (or if you have no idea), consider explicitly including some kind of easy out for them in the request. Guess culture people will often get stressed out from having to say no, so be kind and make it easier. Variants include: “It’s totally fine if you can’t help out” or “I know you’re really busy right now” or “If you can’t help, I completely understand.” These sorts of softening phrases can sometimes make a huge difference in how a request is received. Whether they are appropriate varies depending on context, though.

5. Do what you can to make your request as convenient and considerate as possible for the other person. This could include being flexible about timing, for example, or laying out all the details up front so they don’t have to ask many questions just to figure out what’s going on. It could also mean making sure you’re on time, having the correct materials on hand, or giving plenty of advance warning.

6. Consider the ramifications of your request. This might fall into the being considerate item above. For example, before a Gisher asks Neil Gaiman to write them a story, they might stop and consider the fact that he’s probably already been swamped with requests and therefore decide to ask someone else instead.

7. Show gratitude if the person says yes, both when they first reply and when they are helping you. Let them know how much you appreciate them.

I can tell I’m still more on the Guess culture side of things, though, because as I contemplate this list, my natural inclination is to clarify and add more and talk about variables. And I know many people for whom this list is already way more complicated than it has to be. After all, it could be boiled down to:

1. Ask.

2. Accept no.

3. Be kind.

If nothing else, the simpler list is easier to remember. And it still leaves space for all kinds of nuance as required.

Are you more Ask or Guess culture? What are your guidelines for asking?

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Today I have a guest post, Why Kindness Matters, at my friend and colleague Marilag’s blog. (Yes, I was very busy last week writing all these posts.) I really enjoyed writing this post because Marilag requested that I speak about kindness, which gave me the chance to really think about it and appreciate all the kindness in my life. Thank you, Marilag!

I’m also pleased to announce that I sold another short story. “Luck Be a Lady” will be published by Crossed Genres in their Luck issue, which I believe will come out sometime in May. So if you’ve been curious to read some of my fiction, you don’t have much longer to wait!

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