I am typing this on a cold Delhi morning, snuggled in my bed. I think about the many things I want to say here, struggling to pick out any one or two because I truly appreciate this space and want to make the most of it. Even though they seem like tangled, disjointed thoughts in my head, somewhere deep down I know that they all (in some way) connect to what holds the most value in my life. You guessed it right, it is kindness and compassion!
I spend a great deal of time thinking about how we live in this world, what motivates us to do and say the things we do and most importantly, what tethers us towards (or against) kindness. One could say that the reason I give so much of myself to this idea is primarily to honour the kind of child I was so that I can become who I am becoming today. I internalised layers of shame while growing up, just as so many of us do (mostly unknowingly). I internalised shame for things that (I now know) make me who I am. And when you start feeling shame for who you are, there is very little that is left for you to hold on to. Your existence feels wrong, like a mistake. And there is little else that is as heartbreaking as a child who is made to think that their existence is a mistake.
Most of my memories from my childhood are of seeing myself as smaller than I actually was, crouched in a corner because someone, somewhere is laughing at how I talk, how I smile, how I walk or how I cry when I am ‘teased’ about these things. How difficult I am to talk to, to be around. How I need to be ‘tolerated.’
In retrospect (after years of therapy haha), I don’t think that most of the people who hurt and bullied me wanted to do it. I don’t think they hatched a plan to come at me. They were being how they usually are in the world without realising that someone else may not be like them. And oh, how we dislike difference! Most of us respond to difference with hostility, even when we don’t intend to. It just feels innately threatening and our body slips into defending itself.
However, and this is the important part, our intentions are cruelly limited and inconsequential after a point. As people co-existing in this world, it is our responsibility to be open to and make space for difference, however much it scares us. Specifically, if we are standing in the centre of a group with many people, it is our responsibility to step out and hold space for the one person standing outside, looking at the group in fear. When we are part of a group whose actions are given social approval, irrespective of what we do, it is our responsibility to reflect on who we are and what we are doing.
A deceivingly simple example of this is how we think of crying, especially in public. As much as we are all aware that crying is a completely natural thing our bodies do, we look down on people who cry ‘easily’. When we someone crying in public, we are seeing them as part of a society that stigmatises it. So we need to also see the shame that they must already be feeling and care for them, helping some of that shame to slip away. This can be a hard thing to do. But this is the kind thing to do. If we see them crying and squirm like others may have been doing, we are telling them that their existence is a burden. That their existence is shameful.
Do we intend on doing that? Maybe not. But are we still doing that? Definitely yes.
At a challenging time like now, this is my only request to you: the next time you have to choose between standing firmly where you already are because it is easy and makes you socially likeable and choosing to stand with someone who may be feeling scared and alone, I hope you do the latter. I hope you choose kindness. Because we could all do with kindness, especially right now. But also, always.
1.This breathtaking essay by Ocean Vuong.
3. On rethinking education as we know it by Nora Samaran.
P.S.: I absolutely loved writing this for you and I hope it added some value to your life. I would like to thank Rohini for giving me this space and for everything that she does.