What’s Holding Us Back?

“My greatest fear has always been that I would be afraid—afraid physically or mentally or morally—and allow myself to be influenced by fear instead of by my honest convictions.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

DSCN3281In earlier posts, we talked about how both kindness and unkindness are contagious—literally—and how in every encounter, we have a choice of which contagion we want to spread. And we talked about all the benefits of choosing kindness—improved health, professional success, reduced stress, better sleep, more creativity, more satisfying relationships….

It would seem to be a no-brainer: with all this evidence for the rewards of kindness, who but the most depraved or deprived among us would not opt for kindness and civility? Well, it’s not that simple. There are factors that get in the way of our choosing kindness, and others that provoke us to behave unkindly even if we would wish otherwise.

Today, let’s look at the biggest barrier, and we’ll examine some of the others in future posts.

Fear is #1

Among the many factors that prevent us from extending kindness and receiving kindnesses, or that sometimes cause us to behave unkindly, the biggest one is fear. And fear comes in a lot of flavors:

Fear of having our kindness rejected or misunderstood. Have you ever extended a kindness and had it spurned. Perhaps you offered a seat on the bus, or asked someone if you could carry their packages and they responded as if insulted by your insinuation that they needed help. That sort of response makes us wary to try again. We have no control over how another person will respond to our kind gesture. Maybe they aren’t ready to receive, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

Along those lines, we fear embarrassment. Our attempt at kindness might be clumsy or awkward. It could call unwanted attention to us. As we anticipate “extending ourselves,” we imagine saying it wrong or doing it wrong, being laughed at, and turning red with embarrassment. We tell ourselves it’s better to lay low and do nothing.

Fear of being viewed as “weak.” There are those—thankfully fewer and fewer such people—who hold the misguided notion that kind people are weak. That they’re pushovers, milquetoasts, who can be easily manipulated. Nothing is further from the truth. Kind people are actually the strongest among us—it takes strength and courage to be kind, to risk rejection and put yourself out there. It’s the people who scoff at kindness and demean compassion who lack strength. They don’t even have the nerve to try it. Still, we sometimes let that fear of being labeled weak deter us.

Fear of being vulnerable. No one speaks as eloquently about vulnerability as Brené Brown. In her books and TED Talks, she describes how living whole-heartedly means living with risk. There will always be those who judge us and find us lacking, or who put others down to build themselves up. That knowledge may frighten us, but it also frees us. It frees us to stop trying to please everyone and be our truest selves. As Dr. Brown describes it, we can allow ourselves to be seen for who we truly are. That courage to be imperfect, to expose our flaws, and live authentically has at its core vulnerability. Embracing it, rather than avoiding it, takes us past the fears that might limit us, and opens doors to the life we were meant to live. A life of kindness.

Fear’s a funny thing. We may not be able to banish the fears that constrain us or our kindness, but if we acknowledge them and even make them our allies, they come to hold less power over us. Soon, the fears that once held us back—not just in kindness, but also in relationships, speaking our truth, or trying something new—are no longer barriers, but merely stepping stones.

“Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do.” ~J.K. Rowling

14 thoughts on “What’s Holding Us Back?

  1. I’m sure you’re right that fear is what holds people back from being kind. I know when I was younger I worried about appearing vulnerable when I was kind so I hid behind a mocking facade. Somehow I got over it and realized it’s much easier to be kind– and accept being spurned if it happens. At least I try and there’s value in that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that comment, Ally. I’ve been reading about schools that are instituting “It’s cool to be kind” programs. I suspect the intent is to address that feeling so many young people have that expressing empathy or showing compassion would make them vulnerable or make them appear uncool. It’s hard to get over caring what other people think about us.

      Liked by 1 person

    • How true, Arlene, that fear of losing power (or status, or entitlement) is a cause of unkind and bad behavior. It’s part of that scarcity mindset that says, “if they get something, there’s less for me.” I love Eleanor’s quote, too–such honesty! Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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