For the sixth week of the Kindness Challenge put on by Niki at “The Richness of a Simple Life” she has had us think about “Kindness without expectation”.
This topic took me much deeper than I had anticipated and I want to put a disclaimer up front that it contains some language around the psychological impact of childhood sexual abuse. If this might be a trigger for you, you might not want to read further.
I have not always thought about kindness the way I approach it now and the way it might have been portrayed through my previous posts. As a young child the times, when the word kindness was used most did not seem to make sense to me. For many years during my childhood I was sexually abused on a regular basis. The abuser justified the abuse by claiming love and a special bond toward me. This included that I would receive “random gifts” and “special treatment”, which were visible to people around me. So often, my family and friends would remark on this “kind man”, who cared so deeply about a little girl. No one but me knew that none of these gifts were given as an act of selflessness. The expectations that were tied to them were quite high.
Thus, the message that was internalized in my young brain was that caution tape should be put around the people who were advertised as incredibly kind, because their secret expectation for those acts was probably much more than anyone should ever have to be willing to give in return.
This perception of mine did not change until I was thrown into an Ethics class in late high school. Surrounded by teenagers passionately discussing and debating the philosophies of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche, it was the discussions around Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals that made me question my own perceptions of what types of kindness are possible in this world. Even though I did not agree with all of the headiness of Kant’s philosophy and the notion that true kindness might only be a possibility for the most rational people, I did follow his thoughts on trying not to be motivated by “a desire for a particular end”. It wasn’t only Kant’s words, but also the debates within the classroom and the believe by my fellow classmates that we can act out of a sense of wanting the best for another person or for a betterment of humanity at large. This could be done simply because we feel that the person deserves the right to be happy and fulfilled in their own ways. Not because we want them to be like us, not because we think they are not capable of it themselves, but simply because we have something to offer that might be helpful to them.
But in the giving process, we also need to keep in mind that accepting the offer of kindness that someone else is extending, also requires trust on the part of the recipient to receive it.
If we have something to offer to make someone else’s life more special and even give the opportunity to excel, we as the giver have to be willing to sit with whatever response the recipient will have. If we are not willing to accept certain responses, we are not yet ready to give without expectation.
I wish I could say that this is exactly what I do, but there are many moments when I do not realize I had an expectation to my kindness until I have a certain internal reaction to the response of the recipient. But instead of scolding myself, I have decided to take especially those moments as a learning opportunity. It is also a good reminder that we are all only human. In many situations that we deal with on a daily basis having expectations for the outcome of our actions is required. We wouldn’t do well in our job most of the time, if we didn’t initiate action with an outcome in mind.
Therefore I would say as a final thought that “kindness without expectation” is not about never having expectations, but about creating awareness around those expectations.