Early in grade school, I started to realize that the other kids didn’t talk to me like they did each other, and I didn’t know how to react.
I have a variety of stories that I can tell about that, but the one that’s relevant to this little blurb is that as the bullying got worse, my parents had the same solution: fight back. Movies and TV didn’t help: even Mr. Coriander, the seemingly wise bookshop owner from one of my favourite movies at the time, “The Neverending Story”, asks Bastian of his tormentors who’d chased him into the store, “Why don’t you just punch them in the nose?” Bastian’s answer was the same as mine: “I don’t know.” I had no interest in pushing back when I was pushed. I just wanted to go on with my day.
Of course, there were times I fought back. I remember clawing this one kid, Jeffrey, in the face and breaking his glasses after he pushed me down at the baseball diamond. After some prolonged provocation, I reactively kicked another kid in the stomach right before class, somehow escaping punishment (by then, my teachers knew I was being singled out by the others, so I’m guessing they decided to look the other way).
I was bullied, but I did establish a basement level boundary to what I would tolerate. Pushing back, though, was completely against my natural instincts. I didn’t want to fight anyone. I just wanted everyone to get along. The world, though, between my parents, teachers, books, films, and TV, seemed to tell me my instincts were invalid, wrong, and worst of all, unmanly.
WHAT MAKES A “REAL” MAN?
That same theme of unmanliness would return in adult life, somewhat during my long relationship and marriage, but definitely in the past four years since my divorce and singledom. One thing I learned from the authorities – books, relationship coaches, other single buddies – is that I had to be more “manly”. One woman I was seeing casually expressed “I want a fucking MAN, someone to take the lead, make the plan, show me how it’s done.”
How these observations landed for me looked like this: a “real” man was a mutant combination of fighter, aggressive, dominant, wealthy, successful. A tattooed six pack badass who looks good in three piece suit, a tall, charming alpha who’ll buy a girl flowers, take her out on the town to places she didn’t know she loved, and then fuck her brains out in the sack.
Media images of all manner of “guy’s guys” – Tony Stark, David Beckham, Jordan Belfort, Hank Moody, pretty much the whole cast of “The Expendables” – fed the idea. This is what women wanted. Nowhere in these considerations were introverts, or guys with a little bit of belly flab, who weren’t driven primarily by sex, or who drove cars built in the mid-90s (if they even had cars at all). The capitalistic, consumeristic notion that what makes a good man, a man worthy of love and attraction, was all based on material manifestations combined with Neanderthal-like animal magnetism- seemed once again to run counter to my own enfranchisement in this experience.
The bottom line of all these considerations: I had to become something other than who I was. And it didn’t help that this led me to believe that the type of women who have qualities I prefer – beautiful, feminine, non-religious, intelligent, no bullshit, university-educated Caucasians with little interest in becoming a deferential, white picket fence hausfrau/breeder and with great interest in books, movies, geek culture, and personal development – wouldn’t go for me if I didn’t generate some of those traits. Thanks to my experiences in Landmark, I have accessed the ability to generate those traits, but there’s always something missing. Nowhere in these attributes was kindness.
A KINDER WORLD
Why do I talk about school aged bullying and thirtysomething dating? These were two areas in my life in which my natural inclinations, deep down in my essence as an individual spirit, were put at issue. Specifically, these are times when my natural desire for kindness in my environment was put at issue and at odds with what the outside world was telling me was workable and appropriate. Kindness did not live anywhere in these contexts.
Kindness is not what modern Western culture considers a “manly” attribute, at least not on the surface. It’s still associated with wimpiness, passivity, or – heaven forbid – the feminine (which definitely says something about how we still regard women). In the past, I would operate in that very context and invalidate and disempower myself from going for what I want. Not anymore.
When I stand in the possibility of kindness and a kinder world, I stand in my power.
I remember that time as a child when all I wanted was softness and lighter moments. We call that “innocence”, a word that simultaneously draws up derision and nostalgia when it’s spoken in our culture. But my, wasn’t that a source of pure energy all on its own, back when it was active in the experience of our day? That time as children in which everything was a game, life was play, when we needed no reason to justify anything. Author Whitley Strieber writes about his own extraordinary childhood experiences as a “force” in and of itself, the type of energy most of us only get glimmers of as adults, and dismissed just as quickly. Back then, I’d posit that, aside from the odd monkey-brain outburst, kindness was every child’s natural disposition.
But if I’m here today, only weeks away from my thirty-fourth year in this body, and I can generate any way of being that I choose, then I choose to stand in the possibility of kindness.
WHAT DOES KINDNESS LOOK LIKE?
It starts in kindness to myself, being willing to set boundaries and ensure others respect them, defending them with force only when absolutely required, and cutting ties with those who fail to respect them out of respect for myself. It means forgiving myself for mistakes and abstaining from self-punishment on behalf of someone else who has since moved on. It means recognizing that I’m always in a learning mode, and mistakes are part of the process.
It’s compassion for the overworked service person who is obviously stressed, but continues to try to deliver a great experience for me in a coffee shop or a restaurant.
It’s a kind word for someone who is suffering, or if necessary, a firm coaching conversation for someone who is hiding from the power I see in them (“kind” doesn’t always have to equal “gentle”). Sometimes, it’s ceasing to indulge someone in their own disempowerment when I become aware that’s what I’m doing.
Kindness is volunteering in the service of unwanted or mistreated pets, creatures who are so full of love for us humans and who are often treated with great cruelty in return, who deserve our protection and affection.
Kindness is in sharing the same experiences that I’ve received that have given me access to these long locked-down superheroic abilities: courses like the Landmark Forum, paradigms like the Law of Attraction, or stories and songs that speak to the grandeur locked inside all human beings.
And it’s in the paraphrasing and practice of the last line of the oath that all those who pledge my Fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, must uphold: to strive in all ways to transmit the world to those who may follow after not only not less, but greater – and kinder – than it was transmitted to me.
I will never again dismiss, for myself, the transformative power of a kind word over someone’s day, or the endless ripple effect of a kind act, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. It is in these actions, from this place, that we will move the human race forward and the world with it. In this place of possibility, all the stories of past failures and disempowerments fall away, and the slate is wiped clean.
I am a man who stands in the possibility of kindness and stands for a kinder world. You’re welcome to stand with me if you’d like.