Where is the line between strength and kindness? Or authenticity and respect for the dignity of others who behave radically differently than you? What about using your voice versus choosing to stay silent?
The tension that exists between each of these dynamics can be a real bitch. Relationships can become thorny in a hurry when we are deciding between these options, plus you add in a charged emotion like outrage or hurt and suddenly nothing is clear cut.
Recently I stumbled on a picture that said, “Do no harm but take no shit.” This helped to soothe and calm my restless spirit. It doesn’t help with clarity for each individual situation I find myself in, but it’s short and punchy and in the midst of stress it offers a basic framework for what is acceptable or unacceptable for me.
Most of us long to be kind but we also want to speak up and be heard. Both of these things are noble, decent and worthy. Do they have to be at odds? I’m trying to reconcile them in my life and my relationships, but if I’m being honest (and I do strive to tell my truth), it’s a huge struggle.
Perhaps it all comes back to awareness. The key is to be conscious of any disturbance we feel in our own spirit – when something is off, it’s time to pay attention. I hate that so often I go along with what another person desires because I want to be nice or not be labeled as difficult.
It can’t be bad to try to be kind, but the tension exists where what I think is socially acceptable intersects with what I want or don’t want. Is every situation unique and a decision must be made in the moment for each one, or is there some magic formula that helps me feel true to myself while balancing out what other people might need or want?
I’d prefer a magic formula, but I’m starting to see that this is wishful thinking. This above all: to thine own self be true, as Shakespeare told us so eloquently in Hamlet, and it feels like sage advice. When it seems false to me, I must be on the wrong track.
Sometimes niceness to others masquerades as my own lack of courage. This is an area for me to work on. But it’s also healthy and right not to give in to every fleeting impulse that arises, for words spoken from frustration and temporary irritation can do a lot of lasting harm to others.
It’s important to come to terms with the tension between two opposing forces. Kindness and strength; authenticity and respect for others; speaking up or remaining silent. No “one size fits all” works here. As we deepen our understanding of the person we are in the process of becoming, new relationship choices open up to us.
We grow a little every time we practice these skills. We make mistakes and we learn from them, offering grace and forgiveness to ourselves and to those we love (and those we can’t stand). Nothing about this is easy, but we are not given any guarantees in soul work. Every single day we get a new chance to practice doing no harm but taking no shit.