My 12-year-old daughter Vanessa has an arch-nemesis in her middle school. His name is Michael, and he sits next to her in three of her classes. She’s been complaining about him nonstop for the last few months.
“Michael is so weird,” she began whining every day after school. “He had to sit with us at lunch again. I wish he would just go away.”
Vanessa says Michael doesn’t understand personal space. He forces her to be his partner when the teacher divides them into groups. He never stops talking and raises his hand to ask questions too much.
“I’m so sick of him, Mom. I want to tell him to get lost.”
That’s where I stopped her.
While it may be true that Michael is a pain in the butt, I believe it’s important for Vanessa to understand that some kids are different and have more challenges than she does. These types of kids may have trouble making friends due to social awkwardness. Maybe their home lives are a source of trauma for them. Vanessa can make all the ugly faces and sigh about Michael all she wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that some kids need extra consideration.
“You don’t have to hang out with him all the time,” I told Vanessa. “But you do have to be kind to him.”
My daughter considered this, not quite sure where to draw the line. I explained that Michael probably has a tough time making friends, and maybe he raises his hand so much because he doesn't understand his lessons. As Michael gets older, people might reject him or tease him based on the way he behaves. I want to make sure my daughter isn’t one of them.
Back in 2015, Hollywood made a live-action remake of Cinderella. I went to see it with Vanessa as soon as it was released. The movie was beautiful as it told the story of the poor servant girl who lost her slipper and how she married her handsome prince. There was one particular scene with Cinderella’s mother that grabbed me. I didn't remember seeing much of the mother in the earlier movies, but in this version, she gave her daughter such profound advice it changed the way I look at everything now.
“Have courage and be kind,” she told Cinderella.
Kindness seems like a lost art these days. It’s harder to be kind when you’re stuck in traffic or missing a deadline or your kids are driving you crazy. Stress interferes with your daily actions, and there’s not much time to pause and consider other people or what they’re going through.
I think even just a moment of kindness can change your entire outlook. How many times has a stranger let you cut into their lane while driving or paid the balance of your groceries when you were a little short of money? Did it make you feel different for the rest of the day? You can also have that effect on somebody else by being kind when you speak to them. It’s a reminder that human beings are basically good. The chances that everybody wants to “screw you over” are much lower than you might think.
When Cinderella’s mother spoke about courage, I felt she was relating it to kindness. It takes guts to stand up for what’s right when nobody else seems to care. We know the right things do to in our hearts because we are kind, and the expression of that kindness is courage.
I haven’t always been a kind person. At the height of my addiction, I pretended to be kind to get what I wanted. It made me feel dirty and ashamed, but my only focus then was the drugs. I didn’t care who I had to manipulate to get them, After a while, most of my friends realized I wasn’t being kind to them at all.
Once I was in recovery, the only way I earned their trust back was by being consistent and genuinely kind. Some of my loved ones have decided never to trust me again. I understand where they’re coming from. When we take advantage of somebody’s good nature and generosity, it hurts them at the deepest level. They wonder whether it’s worth it to be kind at all anymore. It’s a terrible thing to do to somebody's core beliefs.
The truth is… it’s always worth it.
Kindness doesn’t just help others. It helps us even more. When you operate from a place of kindness, you show the truest part of your heart. Even if situations don’t always work out, you’ll know you did the right thing and were honorable in your actions. People will respond to your kindness, and maybe you'll inspire them to become kinder themselves. Think about how the world would change, how many divisions could be healed, and how our connection to each other would strengthen. The power is already inside us if we choose to express it.
Vanessa still has problems with Michael at school. When she’s getting ready to go in the mornings, she complains and sighs about him and what he’s going to do to bug her today. Still, she is always kind to him. She makes sure he doesn’t sit alone at lunch and that he has a partner to work with on school projects. She’ll be the first to tell you they are not “friends,” but she treats him with the kindness and respect he deserves.
I’m infinitely proud of my daughter, and I’m glad she took Cinderella’s mom’s advice to heart. It will never steer her wrong.