“You will not be the same person you were before you started graduate school. It will change you irrevocably.”
I remember hearing those words at the graduate school open house I attended and I thought, “game on.” I was ready to be a “changed” person. Ready for the challenge and ready for whatever the program had to throw at me.
Then I started my program and was utterly confused for the first time in my life. Completely. 100%. Lost in the sauce. Undergraduate classes were easy for me. It sounds arrogant, but they were. I studied all the time, and I worked hard, but they were relatively easy for me. During my first semester in graduate school, I cried thinking that the school had made a terrible mistake and that I didn’t belong in the program with people much smarter than I was. I am glad I went to the mentor I trusted who told me that those people were no smarter than me, they were “more adept in the art of bullshit” (and those are his exact words) than I was.
My first class was critical theory and I was a goner from the beginning. I read, read, and re-read every text. It seemed that no matter how many times I read the texts, I was constantly confused. But one theorist stuck with me: Jules Kristeva. I understood her theory of abjection, and before I knew it, I was writing the feminist paper. It was the angle that I understood and saw most clearly.
This evening, I had reason to think of Kristeva again for the first time in years.
I wondered, as I reflected on the day’s events, when kindness became an activity lost in the abject?
Why do some people seem to go out of their way to be cruel? It’s something that I can’t seem to understand, even though I know that it’s a question that I can’t answer.
This year, I have been accused of being “too open hearted”, “too kind”, “too understanding”, “too generous”, “too liberal”, and you name it. If it is in the realm of basic human decency, I have been accused of having “too” much of it. I fail to understand the problem.
I am the person that will compliment a stranger, speak to people in lines, assist someone I don’t know, and become genuinely excited for the good things I see in the lives of my family and my friends.
I didn’t know that was an issue but apparently it is strange. This year, it’s caused some estrangement between me and some family members and it has caused some loss of friends and acquaintances.
When did what I would consider basic human kindness become something abject? When did it fall into the same category as blood, vomit, and human feces? Why do people fear it? Why are some so squeamish?
Today in class, my students and I had a great discussion about authority. Who has the authority to deliver a message? How is that authority measured? How is authority established in writing?
We got around to talking about social media, and one of them made a comment about “everyone” being an authority when behind a computer screen.
Oh how right.
All of the comments made to me this year about how “too” I am have all been made from behind a computer screen.
And acts of kindness are looked at as callous and self-serving.
When a person holds a door for you, chances are that person is doing it to be polite. If another compliments you, chances are, you deserve it. If a person helps you, he or she isn’t trying to “look good.” Kindness often goes unnoticed and can go without thanks.
I’d like to pull kindness out of the abject. Treating people with basic human dignity isn’t “too” much of anything. Is there such a thing as being “too” human? Maybe super human, but don’t we usually call those people superheroes?
It’s the beginning of September, and I am challenging myself. I plan to quietly perform an act of kindness every day this month. You won’t hear about it and you probably won’t see it, but it will be done. Don’t ask me about it, because I’ll be “too” careful not to tell you.
Since 2016 has been the year to tear people down, I want us to try to be “too” something. It irritates people in the best of ways. It makes them uncomfortable. And any day you can make a bigot, a racist, misogynist, ageist, or other assorted brand of creep, uncomfortable because they’re being a jerk, it is a good day.
Be “too” something. “Too nice”, “too kind”, “too big hearted”, “too understanding.” Join the “too” people, even if only in the comments.
But face to face is often nice as well. It’s unexpected, and that’s just “too shocking” to believe.