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Kindness Matters | Happiness And Paradox

Many years ago, I was a miserable mess of a girl, weeping in a beach parking lot over the latest indignity my verbally (and later physically) abusive boyfriend visited upon me. I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten there. I was smart. I was reasonably attractive. I came from a loving family with two happily married parents. I wasn’t the kind of girl who cried in parking lots.

Yet, there I was. Minutes before, I was hanging my head while my boyfriend berated me for being stupid, a disappointment, not good enough, [insert denigrating remark here]. And I felt sick to my stomach because I took it. I took that shit like it was mine. Like I had been waiting for someone to hand it to me so I could store it carefully away in my mental hope chest.

As I stood there crying, a woman approached. I didn’t know her well, but she had been at the disaster of a picnic we’d just attended and likely she had witnessed the scene with my boyfriend. She didn’t ask me if I was okay, because clearly I wasn’t. She just stood there, with a sympathetic half smile on her face. All I said to her was, “I don’t think anyone would believe how he talks to me.” She put her hand on my shoulder and said, gently, “No one, and I mean no one has the right to make you feel like this. No one deserves this.” Then she continued to her car with her blanket and cooler.

It would be another two months before I broke up with that man, and before I did, he would inflict more damage on me. But those plain and rather obvious words had been what I needed to hear at that moment. They seeded my parched spirit with hope, and the belief that I didn’t deserve the ration of misery I was regularly served began to grow and grow until one day, I was able to walk away.

I grew up, figured myself out a bit, married a good man, and had a kid. One night, that kid was suffering from one of those pesky respiratory things where they can only sleep fitfully while propped up on your shoulder. He was my first, and I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I was resigned to being a human pillow. I held my toddler son and surfed the internet and lo! I found kind parking lot lady’s contact information! I had thought of her often over the years and wished for the chance to tell her what a difference she’d made in my life.

She responded to my email immediately. She was surprised and grateful. She did remember me, but didn’t particularly recall the details of that day. I told her I wanted her to know that that moment of kindness had a profound impact on me. She thanked me and then sent me a link to something called the Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent Keith. “Please follow these,” she wrote. “I think you will find them helpful.” It was the last communication I had with her, but I’ve read and reread those commandments and shared them often. I thought I’d do so again today on International Happiness Day as you never know the effect a well-timed bit of wisdom can have on someone’s life.

Paradoxical Commandments

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About Nanea Hoffman (287 Articles)
Nanea Hoffman is the founder of Sweatpants & Coffee. She writes, she makes things, and she drinks an inordinate amount of coffee. She is also extremely fond of sweatpants. She believes in love, peace, joy, comfort, and caffeinated beverages.

2 Comments on Kindness Matters | Happiness And Paradox

  1. Great writing, pal.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it, but “It’s Not Safe” by Aimee Mann is my personal anthem. It nearly perfectly sums up the constant battle between my safety/anxiety/trust issues and disappointment with humanity at its worst, versus my idealistic urges to help people, protect innocence, and do good things. I’ve been known to sit in my car alone, cathartically crying and singing this song at the top of my lungs. That’s how much it kicks me in the heart, and how hard I relate to it.

    Anyhow… the first line of that song reminds me of the Paradoxical Commandments above. It says: “All you wanna do is something good… so get ready to be ridiculed and misunderstood.”

    Another favorite line in the song is: “You can take your own advice and try again, but a thousand compromises don’t add up to a win.”

    That line reminds me of this story, because I’m so glad younger you stopped compromising, and finally got the win you deserved (your awesome husband). And bless that wonderful lady, wherever she is right now. I’m totally sending her love. <3

    • I am going to go find that song. I love Aimee Mann. My son just read Death Of A Salesman in school and we had this talk about tragedy and heroes. He’d just read an essay by Miller on why tragedy is ultimately hopeful and I explained to him that in tragedy, the hero is fighting a battle he can’t possibly win – he’s not supposed to win – but he fights it anyway. And that is heroism. Persisting in the face of constant defeat and deciding to do good and see good – that’s the paradoxical key to happiness, I think.

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