I feel compelled to write this blog on kindness but I can’t say that I’m sure quite where it’s going to end up.
A coachee recently talked to me, in some anguish, about how they’d tried to help someone at work over a number of months and had felt ‘dropped’ once the problem had been resolved.
Coincidentally there was an excellent Twitter discussion on kindness this morning. You can find it here or just search on #ldinsight. One particular sub-thread really resonated with me in the context of the above coaching session but also given a couple of things that have happened in my life.
The thread was discussing the complex issue of kindness, ego and whether kindness is received well, welcomed. There were various interesting & wonderful people on the discussion so it feels a little unfair to single out any particular comments. These seem to provide the right context but there is much more:
I'm reminded of several people's reported experience of 'being there' and supporting friends experiencing difficult times, who were then effectively ghosted by those same people afterwards. Something about shame for having been seen at their lowest? #LDinsight
— Niall Gavin (@niallgavinuk) May 22, 2020
The reported experience of others who have found themselves in this situation is one of puzzlement and hurt – "What did I do wrong?" kinda thing #LDinsight
— Niall Gavin (@niallgavinuk) May 22, 2020
Or is it more that the recipient can’t receive kindness, from anyone or from specific indivuals? I see this often in my therapy work. #LDInsight
— Dr Trish Turner (@coach2therapist) May 22, 2020
Sometimes memories hit you like a sledgehammer, don’t they?
I was in my twenties. A close friend, also in his twenties, was ill. Very ill. A small group of us had a rota for visits. At home to start with and then in hospital. Dramatic at times…phone calls received asking us all to dash to the bedside; on one occasion to be told that he had been given two weeks to live. They were wrong, thankfully. A long convalescence. Very long. And then nothing. Silence. I feared the worst.
And I was wrong. One of the group called me to give me an update. They had managed to find out that the guy concerned, whilst hardly in the best of health, had recovered and was going to survive. But he’d vanished. Nobody knew where he was living. He’d moved on.
Now of course we hadn’t helped, been kind, expecting anything in return. But it was actually quite devastating to feel ‘abandoned’ in this way. I’d prepared myself not to see him again but I certainly hadn’t expected that I’d never see him again if he survived. It wasn’t about me, but it felt personal. I’ve thought about it for 30 years now. I know where he lives. I know he’s alive.
The more dramatic example of this, which upsets me to this day, didn’t directly impact on me.
One of my parents’ best friends, someone of whom I was very fond, went missing then was found dead in, let’s say, scandalous circumstances. Headline news all over the tabloids the next day.
It’s shocking to see the event that had kept everyone awake all night plastered all over the front page of the ‘paper that was delivered the next morning. My Mum’s instinctive response, of course, was to devote the next few months of her life to looking after the widow who had lost her husband in awful circumstances. She (Mum), all five feet & half an inch of her, literally marched reporters from ‘The Sun’ and other tawdry rags off her friend’s property. She was there throughout.
Then one day calls were not returned. She couldn’t get through. No response at the door. Again she feared the worst but the friend was fit and well. As well as she could be. Then my Mum fell ill with a succession of dreadful illnesses. Truly dreadful in fact, the combination of which led to her death a few years later. No sign of the ‘friend’ who knew exactly what was going on (small village, many mutual acquaintances). And, a few days before she died, my Mum confided in me. “I still don’t understand what I did wrong, why she dropped me like that.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong Mum. You were fantastic.”
And so I wonder…
- When we set out to be kind to someone else, what are our expectations?
- If our acts of kindness are completely altruistic, do we deserve to be treated well in return? Is it a reasonable ‘request’? If not, why not?
- What are the limits to kindness? I certainly didn’t harbour kind thoughts towards my Mum’s former friend, despite what she’d gone through.
- Should we learn that one of the possible outcomes of helping someone is that they don’t want to see us any more?
- Do we remember to be kind, in return, to those who are trying to help us?
I’m not a qualified psychologist and there must be complex psychology at play here. Particularly when people have experienced the kind of traumas I outline above. So I think I’m just trying to open this up for discussion, maybe to heighten awareness, possibly to encourage thoughts. So…
What do you think? Does this resonate for you? Is it a helpful blog? Can you shed any light?
Be well. Be kind.