Words by Emily Fuller
Why is the practice of kindness and compassion opposed to being a pushover? I instinctively jerk away from the labels and connotations continually hurled at me relating to my kindness, refusing to comply to this negative stigma. Be careful, someone will take advantage of you if you don’t show more dominance. You’re a pushover. You’re just a little TOO nice. Such stigma and representation is deeply embedded all around us – from pop culture to the media. In films, the ‘nice’ guy fails to get the girl due to his emotional vulnerability and kindness portrayed, or the ‘girl next door’ is the one that sits on the sidelines blending into the background as a wallflower whilst the villainous popular girls are afforded all of the attention and gratification.
This is one thing that has always baffled me and my sense of logic – the shame and disapproval tied to showing a lot of kindness and compassion in your everyday life. You may have heard similar phrases or had them directed at you for exhibiting softness and vulnerability. By upholding this stigma a door opens, enticing one to waltz right on through with bad behaviour and possibly a lack of consideration for those surrounding them. Those who perpetuate such attitudes revolving around kindness use their argument as a shield of morale, countering any sense of accountability and thus further championing their self-assured validation for their treatment of others. Sure, I believe it’s fundamental to have the strength to hold ourselves up in a world where people mistake your compassion for weakness – however that is precisely the issue. It is absolutely possible to exhibit both strength and vulnerability contrary to what social conditioning leads you to believe. Rather, I view these qualities as one in the same, bleeding into one another like the delicate gradients of a fairy-floss sky belonging to dusk. The root of the issue is not about showing too much kindness, but instead it has everything to do with the manner in which the people in your life utilise your thoughtfulness. It isn’t too far of a stretch from victim blaming in assault cases, when you consider that society teaches us to make the “pushovers” responsible for the mistreatment they endure by those who take advantage of such kindness. It sounds a little silly once you hold it against such a comparison, doesn’t it?
Being criticised as the “too nice” girl has often provoked me to question the role of power and gender in such negative labelling for both men and women. Women are often assumed to exert softness and compassion naturally as social constructs force them into maternal moulds. Hence, finding ourselves in a world where kindness is equated with weakness, some women are riddled with determination to declare their strength and independence. They reject notions of acting with kindness and vulnerability in sheer protest of the feminine ideals imposed upon them – and can you blame them? Don’t be fooled either, men are influenced by this misconception of demonstrating too much tenderness not too differently from us women. They too are navigating through a world where power is aligned with, and attained by, exercising dominance and aggression. Toxic masculinity disciplines men into suppressing any form of emotional sensitivity and compassionate self-expression, not only within themselves but also towards those around them.
Whilst I understand this is a social issue of such complex nature which has rooted itself comfortably in our society over years upon years of conditioning, power does not necessarily have to be inextricably tied to dominance and belligerence. However, by discounting the transformative power and positivity of kindness, we allow for a diminishing connection to our humanity. The patriarchy and notions of power have cautioned us, both men and women, against appealing to our own humanity. Power has rendered us incapable of not feeling shame, or not shaming others, for showing benevolence and unconditional kindness in our everyday lives. However, we need to undermine this idea of how power is associated with what it means to be human – because it is not. Our kindness is our humanity. So is our resilience, our tenderness, and our love. That is what makes the human condition powerful in the most beautiful sense of the word. Opting for humility and compassion in the sneering face of aggression takes much more strength than we realise. So maybe we should start dispelling those binaries of kind/dominant and weak/powerful, and look towards practising compassion without shame. Because to yield kindness and to still not break under social pressure speaks more volumes of positive power than we could ever know or appreciate.
Art by Broken Isn’t Bad – @broken_isnt_bad