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In Pursuit of Greater Kindness

By November 13, 2016 July 13th, 2018 Personal Stories

Pictured: Having a damn good time

Over the years, I’ve had a decent amount of time to reflect on my own psychology. I’ve always been very big on the idea of doing no harm… put simply, I aim to have a damn good time while I’m alive, while being as kind as possible to everyone around me. Though this sounds good on paper, in the past, this mentality has caused me a significant amount of grief. The root of the problem lay within my own psychology… I cared too much (bear with me, you’ll see what I mean).

In the past, at the end of each day, my brain would systematically review the social interactions that had occurred, and it would identify the areas where I felt I had made mistakes… moments where I seemed to have unintentionally caused others to feel uncomfortable. This, of course, was a certain expression of perfectionism – I was on a constant quest to better myself, and this was just one of the ways I seemed to go about doing it. Problem is, I really, really felt horrible whenever something I did had a negative effect on someone else. 

It had a lot to do with my past. Suffice it to say, when I was growing up, I became pretty familiar with being on the receiving end of disrespect – I was bullied quite a bit. When I reached adulthood, I still remembered how terrible it felt to be disrespected, so whenever I thought I had made someone to feel like that, I felt exceptionally bad. I never wanted anyone else to feel like I did so many times growing up. I felt so strongly about this, actually, that I would often find myself losing sleep… having difficulty just being within my own head, mentally beating myself up for the mistakes I’d made each day.

With time, I came to realize that the intensity of my emotions were usually disproportional to the actual impact they had on the individuals in question. I would get conclusive evidence of this when I would approach people afterwards, and apologize for instances where I thought I made them uncomfortable. These gestures were always appreciated, but in about 75% of cases, I learned that the people in question weren’t affected at all, or not as deeply as I had assumed. Over time, given these experiences, I slowly got better at beating myself up less. My heightened caution and sensitivity had a lot to do with my past… but my past wasn’t representative of the present. And just because I felt things so deeply, didn’t mean others felt things exactly like I did. It was a good realization to come to.

Photo by Roxanne Ready

Photo by Roxanne Ready

Believe it or not, there were also external factors that seemed to accentuate my worrying, in certain cases. I remember a distinct time where I felt more anxious and worried than usual, and I had a harder time being happy… it was odd. I remember questioning, what changed? Why, all of a sudden, was I having more difficulty with something so basic? Cheese. Yes, cheese. There had been a significant sale on cheese at the grocery store (I swear, I’m not joking), which lead me to buy higher amounts of cheese than usual, which I then ate more of than usual. (I have a hard time writing that and not cracking a smile, but it’s totally true.) I even found a correlation between my anxiety and the cheese, by consulting my food logging app. Now, I wasn’t a doctor, nutritionist, or an allergist, but I could see a pattern. I gave away all my remaining cheese, and decided to test my theory… I removed cheese from my diet, as a test. Sure enough, once I stopped with the cheese, my anxiety and nervousness dropped, and I started to feel normal again. Weird.

Photo by Mario

Photo by Mario

So, with a combination of age, experience, and dietary factors, I found myself with a better mentality. I should feel badly about what I’ve done wrong, but only for a moment – after all, I’m human. Feeling a moment of deep, honest regret is what ensures I don’t repeat the same mistakes. But the days of beating myself up endlessly were gone… in my mind, I would mentally visualize a dark cloud appearing over me, giving me grief for my errors, but unlike in the past, I acknowledged it, made a note to do better, then smacked it away immediately. Message received, no need to dwell.

I’ve also been really lucky in life with regards to meeting key people that understood my psychology very well. Among them, is particular co-worker, who coined an expression that I’ve since adopted and use regularly: reasonable perfectionism. You can drive yourself batty trying to do the absolute best job possible, or, you can do a very good job based on your experience, but not obsess to an unhealthy, unreasonable level.

Over the years, I’ve learned to trust in my experience as a human being. I still make mistakes all the time socially, but I don’t torture myself as much as I did in the past. I just keep growing, learning, and with that, I make less and less mistakes. I continue to have a damn good time, while continuously improving my ability to be considerate and kind with everyone around me. And, as long as I always feel at least slightly embarrassed at how I acted in the year before, then I must be doing something right.

Note: November 13 is World Kindness Day. I figured it might be a good time to release this blog post, which I’ve had in a mostly-complete state since June. I also figured it’d be a great time to start my weekly game giveaways, as announced in my recent video, A Quick Check-in From Mount Royal. One free copy of The Binding of Isaac is now available. Simply add it to your cart via my Giveaway “store”!