Kindness is a strong virtue to embody. It comes easier to some than to others, but without it, a society cannot cooperate nor thrive. We are a cooperate species, but we are also an arrogant one; without kindness and a certain level of understanding, survivalism and violence brew — and can easily spiral out of control.
However, kindness — or what I should call “niceness” — can also spiral out of control. It can even cause us harm, albeit of a different variety.
This saccharine niceness to which I refer is the kind borne by fear or anxiety — an automatic, learned response of apologetic subservience regardless of its appropriateness to the individual situation. Women especially may know this feeling all too well, but men are certainly not exempt from the experience.
Many have convinced themselves subconsciously that this behavior is a “true” reflection of inner aptitude — that they are somehow inherently less capable than their peers, and thus to fight that would be a fool’s errand. This thinking is one of the most harmful and dangerous ideas that settles into the human psyche, because it inspires only defeatism. Despair overtakes us. Personal growth plateaus.
At that point, things get dicey. Cortisol levels build and stress begins to harm you in a very real and physical manner — weight gain, learning and memory problems, depression, difficulty sleeping…the list goes on. Though some “good” stress can help us kick it into high gear during a pinch, this stress hormone often does not know when to call it quits, and our bodies and minds suffer the consequences.
Returning to this concept of fearful niceness, it is easy to see how anxiety plays a part in this kind of interaction. Many people write themselves off subconsciously, practically apologizing for their presence, communicating all of this in the way they carry themselves. When this kind of behavior is accepted internally as “just the way it is”, it robs us of our chance at happiness.
Luckily, techniques exist to quell this kind of indiscriminate fear response:
- Posture is a big one. When walking, walk with your head forward and your back straight, almost as if puffing out your chest. Take confident steps. Slow down; there is no tiger chasing you.
- Eat right. Supplements, meds, and even drugs like caffeine serve their purposes, but at the end of the day, the best way to benefit from what you put in your body is by simply eating more of the right kinds of foods. Skip the bacon today. Add more green to your meal rituals. And stop drinking so much.
- Remember that no one is in control of your actions but you. It may sound obvious to some, but an unconscious fear of reprimand often manifests as a sort of “need” for permission or approval for even the simplest things. Give yourself your own approval as you carry yourself through your day. Remind yourself often that you are the one in the driver’s seat — you, and no one else.
Ultimately, it’s about one thing: practice, practice, practice. Practice trusting yourself more and seeking approval less.
And remember that one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal is the smile. Smiling tricks your body into releasing endorphins, even if you’re not feeling happy.
So smile. Be kind. But stand tall.