The midlife crisis ™ has little to recommend it. A rollercoaster ride of emotions ranging from disappointment to dismay, with pit stops in the realm of paralyzing depression, the crisis is loud, turbulent, and leaves you feeling queasy and regretful. The lone saving grace for me has been the opportunity for self-examination and refocus of values. Out of the mountainous heap of desires both gratified and not, one want stands out above all others.
I want kindness.
I’m posting this in December, which might make you think it has something to do with Christmas. It does not. I’m not talking about seasonal friendliness, or donations to the food drive, or bonuses for your employees, or gifts you can’t afford. Kindness is a 24/7/365 game plan, and it costs nothing.
It begins with an acknowledgment of the inherent beauty and perfection of others, and of yourself, followed by an acceptance of the inherent fragility of the same. Our weaknesses are made manifest every day, and nothing is more challenging to your own ethical stance than being confronted with failure—mine, yours, and theirs. Some failures are minor (you got my order wrong!), some shattering (your drunken accident killed another person). I submit to you that in nearly every case, the response to failure should be kindness.
This is not to say that anger has no place. It does, though it does not have nearly as many places as we tend to give it. But your anger, even when appropriate, does not justify cruelty. Your anger does not justify meanness or hardness of heart. And this is not to say that punishment is never called for. It is. But an ethical punishment is fair and is meted out with care and is tempered by mercy.
This I intend: If you see me today, whether we cross paths every day or will never see each other again, you will be glad, or at least not sorry, to have met me. You can flawlessly meet my every expectation and I will respond to you with kindness. You can disappoint me and I will still respond to you with kindness. If I walk into your life or your store or your home and make you wish I hadn’t, just because you have been imperfect, that is far more my failure than yours.
This I ask: Offer kindness to me in the face of my imperfections, and especially offer kindness to my children in the face of theirs. I have the thick rhino hide of one long since grown and can take a lot of animus without bleeding. But the skin of children is easily torn, their innards can be damaged, their selves can hemorrhage. My protection of my children is limited in scope, and I depend on other people to care for them as I care for the children of others.
This I believe: Many, maybe all of the holes that begin to ache hollowly in middle age were formed by casual cruelty and can be filled with kindness. This is what I want.