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Do you have a reputation? What is it, and where did it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?

Reputations rarely tell the whole story. The traits that people attribute to us are often a long time developing, and may have a variety of causes.

People generally think I’m kind, and I try to be. But that’s not the whole truth. My parents argued dreadfully with one another when I was a child. I remember going around the house in the summer and closing windows so the neighbors wouldn’t hear them yelling. It was embarrassing and it was disturbing. It made me mad, too, but it was the beginning of me trying to “fix” things — trying to be the peacemaker. That’s not something a child should have to be, nor an adult for that matter. Being a peacemaker robs a person of his or her authentic self, learning how to express oneself appropriately, and knowing how to set boundaries. I still hate fighting and chaos; it make me uncomfortable and unhappy. I think it’s fair to say that I rarely display anger.

So initially being kind was the antithesis of being mad and resentful. As I grew older, learned more about myself, faced some of my problems because they were interfering with achieving personal happiness, I was better able to be genuinely kind. I guess I’m still a people-pleaser, but now it’s a choice, not a defense mechanism.

It takes a certain amount of self-assurance to be truly kind. When I’m kind to someone, I’m giving them a bit of myself, and I have that ability now. Since I’ve learned over many years that people all have their own set of problems, I would rather err on the side of kindness in my relations with them.

At some point, too, I decided to give 3 compliments a day. I haven’t always lived up to that goal, but it’s amazing how it is possible to make someone else’s day with just a few kind words. I learned this teaching too. Students, even more so these days, need reassurance and validation. I used to watch some kids getting out of the car in the morning with sad-sack faces, and I would say something as simple as “I like your sweater” — and they’d smile and their day would begin just a little better.

People might also think I have a good sense of humor, and certainly, as a teacher, I used humor with my middle school students to make a point, to get them to feel better about their mistakes and try harder, and just to make the learning process more fun. Kids at this age can take themselves pretty seriously — and sometimes humor can inject a reality check. As author Leo Rosten put it, “Humor is the affectionate communication of insight.”

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