New York City when kindness goes wrong

When Kindness Goes Wrong

Acts of kindness do not always go as planned.  Afterall, kindness usually involves vulnerability, need, and people.  All of which can be very unpredictable.  So, what do you do when kindness goes wrong?

Not All Roses and Rainbows

I have spent the last year and a half writing about kindness and its benefits to your physical and mental well-being.  In my very first article, Kindness­–an Undervalued Resource, I carefully outlined how acts of kindness will undeniably improve your life. I try to make my posts uplifting and encouraging.  Why am I doing all of this?  Because I would like us all to create the habit of kindness in our lives.  I firmly believe it will make us happier and healthier.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s been all roses and rainbows.  It’s understandable that acts of kindness are not always easy to do; that’s part of the reason they’re considered acts of kindness.  But one would hope–and expect–the act would be appreciated or, at the least, respected.  That’s where I went wrong.

What’s the Point?

One of the potential side-effects of an act of kindness is the release of the “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin, making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.  That can only happen, though, when we are feeling positive emotions.  What if our act of kindness is met with disdain or frustration?  What if instead of feeling that coveted “cuddle hormone”, we feel anger, disappointment, or sadness?

I personally struggle with this.  In fact, yesterday, my act of kindness left me feeling foolish and jaded.  I thought I was buying a hungry person lunch, but I was just playing a role in an elaborate scam.  Or at least that is how I felt at the end of the experience. I was certainly not feeling any cuddle hormones.

I also go through ups and downs with my volunteer jobs.  Trying to keep a city park clean while facing recurring problems like rats, litter, and cigarette butts often feels unsurmountable.  It sometimes leaves me asking, “what’s the point of even trying?”

The Three Parts of Kindness

In their book, The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children, Dale Atkins and Amanda Salzhauer point out, “Being kind has three parts: noticing, thinking, and doing.”  That’s it. There is no fourth part: receiving gratitude, seeing a smile on someone’s face, or getting a pat on the back.  Because that fourth part is all about me and my needs–that’s just a bonus.

Remembering this fundamental of kindness is critical if you want to make kindness a habit in your daily life.  The negative emotions that we can feel after an act of kindness are a result of our own assumptions and reactions.  They’re not necessarily truth or reality.  Maybe I fell into a scam, but perhaps the true benefit was that person felt seen.  And, although picking up trash and cigarette butts seems futile, the work we did likely made a difference for the children drawing with chalk on the park’s sidewalk after we finished our clean-up.  

Managing the Equation of Kindness

Even if we end up feeling embarrassed or hurt after an act of kindness goes wrong, we should recall our intention.  Was it truly to do a kind act for someone in need?  If we can answer yes honestly in our hearts, then the act was sound.  We can’t embark on life only doing the things that we know will make us feel good or turn out well.  Too many important things will be left undone. 

Creating the habit of kindness in your life means taking chances on others. Focusing on the fundamental three parts of kindness will help us do good with less stress.  It will eliminate the “me” part of the equation by doing away with our own expectations.

Know Who You Are

Although most of the time, acts of kindness are met with joy and leave us feeling fulfilled, that’s not always the case.  Thus it’s important to know who you are and have clarity of intention.  As David R. Hamilton explained, “Stress occurs when we expect something in return and don’t get it.  But it doesn’t if we have no expectations, if we decide that ‘This is who I am: I am kind.’ and leave it at that.”

I think that sums it up.  When kindness goes wrong, keep on going.  You know who you are in your heart–you are kind.

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