Kindness is an underrated virtue. It’s more robust than being “sweet.” It doesn’t mean you move through life beaming, it means you don’t sneer and you genuinely try to do right by others.
This year, for the first time, I’ve noticed my kindness falter. I’ve noticed the roughness of a big city rub off on me. I’ve seen myself come to a crossroads and elect to go the selfish route. I’ve been burned by one too many shitty drivers, cutting me off because it behooves them and their agenda. I’ve learned from their example. So now I cut people off and mutter that it was my turn anyway.
I try to exude my old, schoolgirl patience. I fail and instead, I abandon patience and snap at the Bank of America attendant I’m on the phone with because I’m annoyed that a small issue turned into a 40-minute phone call. Adulthood governs that time is too precious for such activities.
Is it possible that in effort to stick up for myself in the city and the real world, I’ve gone too far? My kindness is on hiatus and has taken my softest smile and my patience along with it. My patience is gone because now when I’m late to things it’s actually a problem. My lateness can no longer be remedied by a note from my mother that I can hand over to my homeroom teacher.
This sudden selfishness stems from the realization that working 9-6, paying bills on time, and trying to foster relationships all at the same time is hard work. We didn’t bank on it being this difficult. We were warned, but we never truly believed it because Facebook said otherwise. Facebook revealed pictures of those who graduated before us at a local pub, with captions filled with buzzwords like “loft” and “studio” and “gin and tonic” and “latte” and “sunset.” Our naiveté kicked in and we thought growing up would be easy.
It isn’t. Our conflicts do not end with punch line, as they did on “Friends.” Adulthood does not allow for a nightly trip to MacLaren’s pub. Robin Sherbatsky wouldn’t have been able to afford a cab back to Brooklyn every night IRL.
So we lose our patience, because we can’t afford to buy the perfect work wardrobe yet. We lose some of our kindness, because we are taught as millennials that it’s our responsibility to “get ours.” In our haste to have it all, we become brusque.
It’s no longer my instinct to drop everything to rush to another’s aid. Now I have to remind myself to put others first, because over the past year, my mind has been trained to think otherwise.
We’ve been told over and over and over to put ourselves first to get ahead, or risk being left behind.
We must keep reminding ourselves to be a little more selfless. We used to have that reminder built into our daily lives. We volunteered in college. We gave back to the community, because we wanted to – or because it was court mandated. We got into tight spots and our parents came to our rescue. There were constant reminders that we live hashtag BLESSED lives.
I used to get a reminder twice a week, when I volunteered at the Cancer Resource Center, between work shifts. A reminder that came when a patient’s eyes told me that my presence had brought their day up in a way they’d forgotten was possible.
Yet now, we think we’re the victims. We are burdened by the everyday struggles of adjusting to real life, and it’s hard. It makes us impatient. It makes us selfish. And with this negative energy pushing into our psyche, we forget to be grateful.
Instead, I remember to be bitter about taxes. I see the number at the top of my pay stub, then I see all the deductions, and then I see the actual number on my paycheck. My first inclination is to be annoyed. Not grateful for a paycheck. Not grateful for money to pay rent.
And then I’m immediately disgusted by myself, because I know better. I believe in the practice of paying taxes based on your income, and now I’m just whining.
Am I becoming selfish, or worse, a Republican? Or am I just growing up?
The solution exists in our will to make a change. My kindness will take the place of this newfound selfishness because I want it to. It won’t happen because I get a raise, or my dream job. We often think that will be the case, that we’ll be our best selves when everything in our life has fallen into place. When making rent is no longer a challenge and when we’ve found a life partner. Not necessarily. All of that would be nice, but the shift in our character has to be internal.
Ridding the selfishness, and restoring the kindness will not be an immediate shift. We don’t always change for the better, but the negative changes won’t last, unless we let them.