Where does kindness come from?

Despite my radio silence on the blog, I am actively pursuing my internal call to write more in 2019. Too bad that much of said writing is taking place in either a journal or also-journal that happens to be the home of a short story in progress. I think. I wish.

After a conversation with a good friend this morning about the need for self-compassion and grace (both such traits I consider to be works-in-progress for me), I ruminated later on about the art of kindness and why in the world our species (for the most part) decided that kindness was an action that had value, that mattered. If we are to survive, isn’t kindness a weakness? Doesn’t a demonstration of care reveal a vulnerability that any and all should exploit in order to absorb our resources?

Disclaimer: I have done zero research and I hold no education/training in evolutionary biology. But, in a random Tuesday afternoon zoning-out moment, the concept of kindness baffled me. What is its purpose in our world? And why has it been easier for us to build a society that honors kindness to others but scoffs or even rejects kindness to oneself?

The first piece of the puzzle for me is: what exactly is kindness? If it’s about being friendly, why not just use the word friendly? If it’s about doing a good deed, why not describe it as such without creating another duplicative word?

According to some cursory internet searches (everyone’s favorite — headlines FTW!), kindness appears to have first surfaced around the 14th century as kyndness meaning “nation” and “produce, an increase.” Wait, what? Kindness has something to do with nation-building? Or making?

A second definition of kindness via an Internet search comes from the reputable (?) BibleStudyTools.Com where kindness is:

“An attribute of God and quality desirable but not consistently found in humans.”

If you continue reading the section outlining how kindness shows up in different biblical texts, you’ll see that the author argues that kindness does not come naturally; but, at the same time, there is no such thing as people being unkind (apparently, you were not trying to find a parking spot near Mad Hatter’s in Durham in which every open spot is treated as a challenge on “The Amazing Race”).

What do you think kindness is? Is it the same as grace? Does kindness matter? I feel like a definition of kindness must include the word authentic. I’ve certainly been on the giving and receiving end of inauthentic kindness. Even good deeds can have dual purposes (hello philanthropy!)

I’m not sure where I’m wanting this ramble to go, if anywhere. Don’t get me wrong: I love kindness. Harking back to the Old English definition of “produce, an increase”, kindness has the power to spread and grow. It produces a shift in understanding of the world and of the people within it. Kindness reminds us that beauty and love exist; that people do see us and acknowledge that we breathe the same air.

Kindness is earned by those who show it in daily practice. I would like to demonstrate kindness — to people I know and those I don’t. Sometimes, I feel that pull to be unkind: to cut someone short, to cut someone off. I have an inner meanie who broods and snaps to attention on the days where sleep was scarce or emotions are extra-heavy. And, the recipient for the brunt of that criticism: me.

Do you have an inner monster too? I think we all do. I think we can all be unkind. It’s a choice. Each moment offers one. Here’s to a 2019 full of more kindness, the kind that produces and prospers and leads to a nation of kind people.

Perhaps a tad ambitious. Is it 2020 yet?

Why I had to stop using My Fitness Pal for good

As I began to think about the day ahead, anxiety would immediately take over, especially if there was a scheduled meal out. What would I order? How would it balance out with the rest of my allotted calories for the day? I studied menus with fervor, dissecting ingredients and dreaming up ways to make the meal even healthier.

At night, I would try and ignore my rumbling tummy. Too bad, stomach. I had reached my calories for the day. Here’s some water to tide you over until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when the cycle would begin again.

I became obsessed with MyFitnessPal for the first time back in 2014. Since then, there have been several instances when I revisited the food and exercise tracking app. Unsurprisingly, I took up my restrictive eating ways during times of stress and chaos. This is (was) how I could exert control. Forget the political climate, social injustice, and self-generated responsibilities. I could domineer my physical self. I could take up less space, slink into smaller clothes. My hip bones rose like the Himalayas. My face sunk in like Crater Lake. At my peak, I was down to my lowest weight since middle school.

But, all of this “progress” took so much time and effort. Even before eating, I would plug the contents of my next meal (or even meals if I was feeling ambitious) into my log. 24 calories there. 106 calories there. I would review my macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. Too many carbohydrates? Beef up on the lentils and legumes. Too much fat? Leave off that avocado. Each bite accounted for. Sometimes, I would race to my phone after ingestion to make sure it was recorded.

While I can’t remember all of the details from my first go-round, I do know that I was willing to cancel dates out with friends because I was scared about eating in a restaurant. At that time, it was hard enough to be vegan, But to be vegan AND on the brink of starving myself? There aren’t a lot of eateries that cater to such a lifestyle. (Note: that isn’t a lifestyle. At all. Choosing to be plant-based is one thing. Harming oneself with the intentional depletion of vital nutrients and energies is another).

Why am I sharing this? Because it’s a new year, and many people (I’m not saying you, but I bet you know someone who might be) choose to start some sort of new diet. The “wellness” trend as of late is still a diet. Yes, Whole 30 is a diet. Paleo is a diet. When we decide to label certain foods as “good” versus “bad”, we’re establishing a moral code. If we break such a code, we may experience feelings of guilt or shame.

I certainly felt a great deal of guilt and shame when my daily caloric intake was higher than whatever arbitrary number MyFitnessPal offered me based on some fast and loose algorithm. Alright, perhaps that is too harsh as I know that the app, as a tool, can be incredibly informative in understanding how the various items we put into our bodies contributes (or doesn’t) to our overall nutritional health. For me, I used the information as a weapon against myself, which turned into a weapon against others.

When you’re hungry, you are a GRUMP! You are tired. You lack energy. You probably don’t want to have sex or dance or go to a movie because you have to smell that popcorn AND HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN THAT SMALL?

In this time of resolutions and goal-setting, I want to encourage you (or those others in your life would may be struggling with weight or body image) to do some self-reflection behind the “why” of the desire to become smaller or healthier. Over the last few weeks, I have done an about face on the “Food Psych” podcast with Dr. Christy Harrison. When I first started to listen, I thought she was full of shit. Of course a thin body is healthier. Of course there are awful foods that should never be consumed.

Despite my initial skepticism (to put it mildly), I kept listening. And took in more. And allowed myself to dig deeper into the rabbit hole of “why.” When did “healthy” become part of the mainstream dialogue? How did the rise of small-bodied people as culturally superior connect with racism in our country? What does healthy actually mean? Why do I spend so much time worrying about what I’m going to eat?

I tried to use MyFitnessPal back in October (hello gala planning), and it was a flop. I recall trying to input my morning breakfast at a stoplight and feeling so stressed out that if I didn’t type in that oatmeal and banana and peanut butter right then that I would FAIL And the light had turned green and there I was…still plunking away at a screen. Not doing my job as a driver.

And then I was done. I didn’t want to dedicate one more minute of my life cataloguing food. There’s too much else in the world to do.

One of my commitments for 2019 is to continue to explore intuitive eating and trust my body to tell me what it needs, when I’m hungry (not when I think I should be hungry), and when I’m full. I refuse to spend time charting out meals and missing out on people I want to be with because of my culturally-conditioned believes around how I should show up in spaces. I wish for you, for me, and for everyone, that we are all able to find peace with our bodies, and ultimately peace with ourselves.

Me opening a box wrapped in yellow with polka dot wrapping paper

The (Dis)Advantage of One Child Families

When people learn that I’m an “only child,” their response most often takes the form of one of these:

  1. “I would never have guessed that!”
  2. “Do you wish that you had a siblings?”
  3. “Me too!”

First, let’s be clear, I had zero sway in my parents’ pursuit of child-rearing. According to my mom, her pregnancy with me at age 34 was a welcomed surprise. After more than a dozen years of marriage and subsequent efforts to procreate, the attitude shifted from “when” to “if” to even allow such possibility to remain a hope.

And then, here I came, tumbling out after 22 hours of labor and delivery (still sorry, Mom), ready to take my throne as the “only child.” My existence bucked the trend of my parents’ families (both had four siblings; my mother the oldest, my father the baby). Moreover, we fell below-average in comparison to the standard 2.5 American household. At least we had two dogs.

Where did the phrase “only child” come from? How does my existence as a fully-formed human being still put my family in a state of scarcity? Do families with two or more children take reassurance knowing that if something happens to one child that at least the others will make-up for it? No doubt that line of justification provided “relief” during much of our human evolution. In modern day, such an approach doesn’t lend itself well to social graces.

Child crying
Oh, your parent said no to something? Time for the only child waterworks show.
Photo by Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

Here I am, the only child. How should I be perceived as acting? Pop culture has not been kind to us only children. We’re portrayed as petulant, spoiled, and greedy. At least, that’s the narrative embedded in historical texts, film, and throughout other creative mediums. (Fear not: there’s a host of strong protagonists that may bring the selfish, bratty only child trope to its demise).

Let me get one thing clear: I was spoiled. Without question. I had unfettered access to attention from two individuals who loved me. My family’s racial and class privileges also afforded me with access to the material goods most often ascribed to only child status. Did I get everything I wanted? Absolutely not. Did I get to do things that may have been diminished or even non-existent if there was a sibling? Probably. Finances and time often dictate choice; I had the luxury, for the most part, of living a free range life.

However, no amount of stuffed animals or books could ever fully fill the void of loneliness. I did want for a sibling many times growing up. Perhaps it was less about having a sibling but having a companion, blood-related or not, to be a part of play. If a parent wasn’t home or preoccupied (or couldn’t take one more round of Candy Land), I would play board games by myself. Yahtzee and Parcheesi were easier to manage; Clue proved more difficult. [Side story about Clue: the red pawn representing Miss Scarlet disappeared from our set. Now, I have a visceral connection between cherry chapstick, which served as Miss Scarlet’s surrogate on the board, and the potential for murder in the conservatory with a candlestick.]

White car with four people-shaped game pieces (two blue, two pink) on the Game of Life board

There’s a touch of irony playing the Game of Life alone.
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Fortunately, I found friends whose family sizes more than compensated for my solo existence. I participated in a combination of group and individual extra-curricular activities [classical Millennial!] and tried to establish a core group of playmates to quench my appetite for socialization (and to make playing Clue much easier).

Did not having siblings stunt some of my abilities to relate to another person? I think so. I never had to share a bedroom before moving into a dormitory at the University of Arizona. I lived among piles of clothes, toys, and books; I affixed glow-in-the-dark stars to my ceiling after graduating from a nightlight. To help me fall asleep, I would talk aloud to myself, scheming scenarios that I hoped to see again in my dreams. [I freaked out several sitters over the course of the years because of this behavior as their minds thought someone had broken into the house.]

Arriving to campus in the fall of 2007 to share a confined space with another human being brought waves of excitement and nerves. Alas, whatever hope I had for such a union to manifest in the perceived camaraderie that may befall siblings who share a room, particularly sisters, disappeared quickly. Our personalities clashed; our sense of space did not jive. Upon deeper reflection, I think I was disappointed that she wasn’t who I wanted her to be. Perhaps that’s what truly tainted what could have been a more positive relationship. Me and my expectations. They are far too often the source of my own pain and disappointment rather than any sort of satisfaction.

I do feel instant connection with another “only child.” Granted, our living situations could look vastly different. Yet, that common bond isn’t concerned with those externalities. You and me, we have to push back against the stereotypes placed at our feet. Your status as an only child doesn’t keep you from being selfless, compassionate, or grateful. Your behavior doesn’t rely solely upon whether or not you had a sister or brother. At this point in our evolution, I think most of us know that, right?

Still, I had a friend confide in me that she was concerned because her and her partner had decided to only have one child. When I reminded her that I was an only child, she expressed her relief. And she asked:

“Were you lonely?”

“Sometimes,” I shrugged. But, as a person without siblings, I am curious to know: even with a house full of people, were you ever lonely?

Wide pan of shelves full of books

Knowingly breaking the rules…thrice.

Using the word “rules” sounds much more punitive than it really should be.

At the start of 2018, I set an intention to not purchase any books in the year ahead. I own too many already; I have access to a wealth of books through the public library, not to mention family and friends.

Still, I knowingly and willingly broke my “rule” three times. Here are my confessions.

Stacks of books where titles are visible.

All three transgressions took place in the last quarter of the year. The first occurred in the most capitalist way imaginable: utilizing Amazon Prime for that free two-day shipping of “The House on Tradd Street.” Why did I knowingly participate in the transgression? My reasoning was two-fold:

  • First, the Durham Public Library did not offer a non-digital version of the novel. I know myself well enough at this age to recognize the need for paper.
  • Second, I wanted to have the book ahead of my air travel to and from Phoenix. I did check out the online search options for the local Durham bookstore; alas, it came up empty. Thus, you find me opening my Amazon app (so dangerous) and securing a used copy of Karen White’s novel in advance of my vacation.

In my opinion, this is the most egregious, blatant disregard for my own modus operandi. If I had planned better, taken a bit more time to seek out alternative sellers, I may have easily avoided the online megalopolis that is Amazon. But, I didn’t. And I panicked. And I didn’t have any credit card reward points available.

So it is written. So it is done. Perhaps I would feel less guilt about this transaction if I had found the book to be remarkable/life-changing/enlightening. Unfortunately, I found none of the above. A mediocre story to appeal to mass audiences narrated by an unlikable protagonist whose doughnut lifestyle never seemed to manifest in any negative repercussions in her form or fitness.

Spare me.

In contrast, the other two times I knowingly broke my own prescribed rule failed to invoke the same level of guilt/shame. The main difference: partaking in said purchases through local, independent bookstores.

It requires little effort for me to justify spending money at Changing Hands in Phoenix or Letters Bookshop in Durham. Both offer incredible selections that complement each shop’s physical space. Additionally, both house new and used titles, giving this avid reader opportunity to cash in her own books that have been read and shelved in the home library. Store credit? Yes, please.

Also, when Michelle Obama drops a book where she unveils her journey through infertility, how could I not want for those words and emotions to hold in my grasp? Each reveal in this space is so precious, so meaningful. I don’t want to share it with strangers in the public library system. Nor do I selfishly want to wait for it. I am no Aaron Burr. When it comes to the quest and quench for writing, consider me a modern day Alexander Hamilton.

I will experience zero consequences for my defiance (outside of the financial investment). At this point, I do not anticipate engaging in this behavior anymore in 2018.

How formal I’ve become with myself. Establishing rules. Holding myself accountable. Purging my guilt through a public admission. Where do all of these feelings live during the day-to-day of life? Do they bury themselves deep within the self or stay closer to the surface, at the ready to reveal themselves at a moment’s notice? I like to think of my guilt sitting deep in an internal well; but as often as such emotions arise, it seems hard-to-believe they could resurface so quickly, and so often, unless they set up camp just underneath the skin.

I should not feel guilt in my hungering for the written word. I should not feel shame for indulging in the brilliance of writers who inspire me. I feel guilt for hungering for the written word. I feel guilt for indulging in self-satisfying transactions that remind me the number of opportunities I chose not to engage in furthering my dream of authorship.

Would I have the courage to speak up?

The #MeToo moment continues. Instead of proceeding in a way that vindicates the countless individuals who have been sexually abused, raped, assaulted, and violated, we have found ourselves wading in mud passed our knees, submerging our beings at a standstill. Our hands can still clutch at our devices so we send out cries for help over social media, begging the rest of the world to wake up and see the raw, ugly reality that we have endured — pardon me — endure amid threats of violence, accusations of lying, and questions about our moral compass.

Would I be as brave as the Anita Hills or the Dr. Christine Blasey Fords of this world? Electing to bare my soul, exposing my very essence because I could not allow someone who took power from me to ascend to levels even more powerful?

Blood boiling.

It started off so innocently. A small crush on the barista at my favorite coffee shop over the summer after high school. Encouragement from friends and some unexpected bravery resulted in an exchange of telephone numbers. A time and a place to go out soon followed.

The events of the early evening are more fuzzy. We went to a movie. He did not seek my consent as he violated me in the movie theater. He pulled over in my middle school parking lot. He did not ask my consent to my body.

He told me that he was a youth leader in his church. Someday, he wanted to be a pastor.

I remember the fear. Moments of absolute paralysis. He kept repeating himself, murmuring garbage into my ear as I squirmed underneath his weight, knowing this was not how my first experience with sex would be. Why wasn’t he listening?

It seems crude now. “Let me feel your warmth.” I laughed about it later. But I wasn’t laughing that night. I said no. I said no. I said no.

Boys being boys.

Was this my fault? I was (am) a human being who craves affection, love, touch.

But I wanted those to be my choice, not his. And he didn’t allow me to make it.

Maybe he’s a youth pastor now. Would there be a list of character witnesses lined up to defend his honor? How could I prove what happened 15 years ago? There’s no physical evidence. I can’t remember if I told friends or not. I was supposed to be better than that. I was supposed to fall for men who were kind, caring, and respectful.

The bravery I have seen from my closest friends and beloved strangers is inspiring and gut-wrenching. This isn’t my only story. That moment didn’t define my self-worth or value.

But, it did remind me that I’m a survivor. And I’m not alone. The more people listen, the more people wake up, perhaps there’s hope we’ll finally get unstuck and back on the path to a different future