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the hard, kind thing

January 30, 2012

“One day?  I’m going to be beautiful.”

Overheard at mile four of yesterday’s 3M Half Marathon, these words were earnestly spoken by a smooth-skinned teenager as she sped past me.  I got a good enough look at her — lithe, shiny, tall — that a response instantly formed in my brain.  I wanted to reach forward, tap her on the shoulder, and tell her:

image by hannah nicole via flickr

“Oh, honey.  ‘One day’ is now.”

I wanted to urge her, before she ran past me, not to waste her precious time waiting for the elusive One Day.

“Please, stop judging your body as a fixture,” I wanted to say, “and marvel at its function.  Today, in fact, it will carry you for 13.1 miles, and then some.”  I wanted to look her squarely in the eye and help her to understand.

Instead, I said nothing.  I watched her sprint away.

A friend is worried about a woman who works out at her gym.  The woman exercises for hours at a time and has the hollow appearance of someone struggling with anorexia nervosa “It breaks my heart to watch her kill herself every day on the treadmill, but I don’t know what to do,” my friend says, understanding the complexity both of the situation and of the eating disorder she suspects is present.  “Do I talk to her?  Do I talk to the gym’s management?  Do I sit by and do nothing?” 

My friend is motivated only by kindness.  But like the words trapped in my throat at yesterday’s race, her concerns remain unvoiced.

To ask if everything is okay, to offer to help, to tell a stranger she is beautiful — these are hard, kind things.  Saying them means I might offend or frighten, so I say nothing.  I’ll admit it:  sometimes I avoid the kind because of the hard.

What about you?  Tell me, when have you said the hard, kind thing?  What happened?

Today, let me speak truth and kindness, especially those words that are hard to say.  Thank you so much for showing up.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 30, 2012 12:32 pm

    This is such a good post.

    My tendency to speak first and think later and my lack of tact in forming those words (see “thinking later”), has led me to (poorly) express concerns for friends and acquaintances in complex situations at times over the years. Sure, I meant only that I wanted the best for them and wanted to do whatever I could, if anything, to help them on a path that would make them happier people. But I came to question the ego involved in that – who the heck am I to do that “for” others when I can’t do it for myself consistently? This idea was probably fostered by my experience (perhaps due to the gap between what I intend to say and what comes out), of offending (or worse) those I had intended only kindness.

    But then, as a receiver of some kind but difficult truths, sometimes it is just that voice that doesn’t come from within, that someone else – even a stranger – expressed that plants a seed that never would have gained traction otherwise. So does this outweigh the likelihood that I’ll offend or even harm a friendship (as has happened once or twice)?

    Over time, I’ve gotten “better” at biting my tongue and not saying such things to others… but I do struggle with whether that is really better. I’m not sure the younger me would have thought there was any improvement there. I do admire people who speak out, even more when it’s a difficult situation… and even more when someone has the ability to do so kindly, effectively, and without regard to whether it is going to end up stinging them. Something to continue to strive for maybe – push beyond the complete silence to a place of considered words? It is such a difficult thing, especially when, for me, it has been painfully clear that my words are often barbed, even when that was not at all the intention.

    • January 30, 2012 9:45 pm

      I really appreciate your response, Jade, and you are so right. Your comments make me think of that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s so hard to know, in the moment, if our motivation to help someone is fueled by ego, concern, or some other mishmash of ingredients. Thanks for making me think :).

  2. Jessica permalink
    January 30, 2012 3:56 pm

    I recently saw a wonderful documentary, “Miss Representation,” by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The documentary “exposes the influence of mainstream media in facilitating beliefs about women that contribute to their under-representation in positions of power and continue to promote body dissatisfaction in women of all ages.” Perhaps viewing this documentary with friends will stimulate discussion on how to reach out or simply how to support women in general, as this touches us all. Thank you, dearest Anne, for the reminder to think of others. Love you lots!

  3. January 30, 2012 9:51 pm

    OH, Jessica, I can’t wait to watch this — thank you for sharing. We do need to be reminded to support one another, and to think of effective ways to do so. Miss and love you, too! xo

  4. January 31, 2012 11:58 pm

    I am the one who does not think a second about someone thinking less of me in the tough situations. I truly is not about me. Over time, I have learned how to do this with more skill and humor to avoid the offense, as my approach is very genuine of assistance and concern, rather than of the self-righteousness which causes offense. Far better of me to occasionally hurt a feeling, since it invariably leads to self-reflection. Some I have offended have later come back to me (some after years) to say my foot in my mouth was influential in affecting change, which was always my intent.

    Hope you do not mind me leaving a little something for you at my space.

    • February 1, 2012 7:56 am

      Red, how gratifying to know that your words — even if they offended in the moment — were influential in effecting change. I really appreciate your comment.
      Thanks, too, for the mention on your blog! I am honored.

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