“Unkindness is inspired by hatred, anger fuels it into action in which there is no great joy; it would take sadism to turn it into something pleasurable; unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.”
– Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way
Raise your hands, all of you who have been victims of unkindness. Oh yes, I’m sure we have all been trampled on by someone at one point, some of us getting it worse and/or more often than others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I am a mother now, and I have been asking myself how I would like to raise F. Most of my life, I have been there, eating dust, meek, smiling as I (figuratively) get slapped in the face because it was not in my nature to retaliate, especially if the unkind were elders. It was only in my late twenties that I started learning fair ways of standing up for myself and the people I love, without being noxious to the perpetrators. Sometimes, it works; at other times, it doesn’t. Sometimes, I keep my cool; sometimes, I lose my cool. But above all, I’ve learnt that there is a reason why people can be unkind, and if we can remember that, then we would not and need not feel sorry for ourselves.
Ahhh, yes. It may not look it, given that I have been airing my thoughts publicly for a decade now, but I have felt victimised before by various forms of unkindness, ranging from outright bullying to malignant criticism to being cruelly ridiculed and cornered for that innocuous seed of information that would be miraculously spun into a mossy tangle of rumours. I used to blame myself, and think that people must have a good reason for doing this to me, but as I grew older and learnt the ropes of life, I realised that these, being unprovoked, were done (mostly by the same group of people) to bring me down. But I fought, not to hurt them back because that would mean stooping to a new low, much like the perpetrators, but to stand up tall with a clear conscience, and be happy regardless.
The truth is unkind people are discontented, deeply unhappy, insecure, and dare I say, jealous. If you think about it, there is absolutely no reason for genuinely happy, contented and loving people to gloat over another’s misfortune, put people down to make themselves feel happier, or be sadistic. Now that I know better, they are the ones I actually feel sorry for, because nothing else makes them more elated than being unkind and watching their victims squirm. How devastating it must be to lead that life, to wake up every morning thinking up ways of bullying people they think they have a right to despise, when everyone else is probably waking up to the joy of being alive so they can love, live, give back, and laugh.
And so, I tell my husband, M, that I do not wish to raise F to be an elitist, one who is revered for how well she does in school, how much money she makes, how well she plays sports, the type of car she drives or the district she lives in. There is absolutely no value in any of that. Instead, I want F to be strong enough to stand up against the unkind and not crumble like her mother once did, because let’s face it, the grotesque nature of Man will always be plain for all to see. It breaks my heart that I will not always be around to shield her from bullying, even at such a tender age (sad to say, I have heard kids pointing at an overweight man crossing the road and yelling, ‘PREGNANT MAN, HAHAHAHAHA’ (and get this) in the presence of their parents, who do NOTHING to correct them). And it breaks my heart that she is going to have to take the fall a few times before learning what I learnt the hard way. But yes, I hope for her to be strong enough one day. Above all, I want F to be as kind and loving as humanly possible, because we could all use another friendly face, don’t we?
Yes, we could. Even those who have been unkind, for I am sure they would want their children and loved ones to be free of bullying.
Kindness begets kindness. Don’t ever forget that.