Kindness is a virtue. All of us have heard this phrase. All of us abide by it. Kindness is goodness. Kindness is ethical. We should try to be kind at all times. However, in our everyday life, we often end up confusing kindness with being a pushover, and we don’t even realize it. And it’s not entirely our fault. Being kind and being a pushover are only distinguished by internal motivation, hence the difference remains ambiguous – especially from an objective point of view.
According to the dictionary, kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. A lot of us can be friendly at most times, but kindness entails a little more than that. It is inspired by selflessness. Therefore, at times, when we are being kind in hopes to win the approval of the other person, adding a tiny element of selfishness into it, we ultimately fracture the true meaning of kindness. Now, I do not mean to say that we are bad people for simply expecting people to like us in exchange for our kindness. Our need for approval is natural, but what it really reflects is our internal struggles with self-worth – which is the subject of concern.
Kindness, in its pure form, is absolutely beautiful. It comes from a place of empathy and thoughtfulness. When we choose to hold the door open for a stranger or make a room in our tiring schedule to listen to a friend ramble about their day, we choose to be kind. I have always believed that the true foundation of kindness is love. The definition of love transcends our intellect, and no one has ever been able to truly dissect the fervor that love is. It could be because love is not just one emotion; it is an amalgamation of every powerful emotion that exists within us. My very philosophical and equally poetic two-line discourse on love is merely to tether the connection between the two abstractions, i.e., kindness and love.
We are kind, out of love. We do not water a baby tree for it to grow someday and shadow us – we might not live long enough for it to do so. Our reasoning for nurturing it is rooted in our love for it. The sentiment of deep affection for a person or an object inspires kindness in us, and we are not afraid to go to great lengths to achieve the level of satisfaction that comes with it.
However, kindness is not always such a pleasant thing to experience, because loving someone does not translate to being nice to them no matter the circumstances. It is actually the opposite. Kindness, at times, is unpleasant, and at most times, uncomfortable. It demands being strong enough to not be deterred by fear of opposition or unwelcoming consequences. It demands honesty. Being kind does not imply wholeheartedly giving in to the wants of the people – or things – you love. Instead, it entails considering what they really need, no matter how unsettling it might be. The moment we refuse to acknowledge what’s actually right for the other person and act all nice and easy only to escape an uncomfortable situation, that is when we willingly step under the label of being a pushover.
If I were to define being a pushover in one word, I would say it is EXHAUSTING. Imagine going out of your way to favor everyone in the room, despite your scorn. Imagine telling a person that they are right in an argument when they have never been so wrong. Imagine constantly carrying the weight of expectations on you just because you couldn’t say ‘no’ the first time. Imagine over complimenting someone so as to feel a little better about yourself in the process. Imagine withholding strong – and presumably wise – opinions just because you are afraid that someone will disagree. Imagine feeling sorry for every action of yours.
And here comes the craziest part: we are not pushovers for the sake of others. We often do it for ourselves. I believe that by being extra nice, what we are trying to do is fill in this void that we may feel within the depths of ourselves. The void that emerges from the lack of self-esteem.
In my opinion, being kind is fulfilling because it does not entail fretting unnecessarily about how we might feel afterward. The satisfaction of doing right by the person is enough to get us through the uncomfortable moments that follow. On the other hand, a pushover person does and says things to feel better about themselves, despite knowing that they are not being completely honest to the people around them – and themselves. But the after-effects of being a pushover are never what we expect. They are quite the opposite. We may have built a reputation of being the nicest person in the room, but we are left with extremely conflicted emotions. Our own self is split in half; one of them rejoicing at the approval while the other is unable to get past the feeling of resentment and uneasiness that comes with doing something you never wanted to do in the first place.
Now, being a pushover might have started sounding like a horrible, horrible thing to you. But things here are much more complicated. As I mentioned above, being a pushover does not simply mean that you are a bad, dishonest person who is desperate for approval. It is okay to want to be liked among your peers. What’s not okay is the preceding thought process of a pushover person and subsequent treatment by their peers. If you check all the boxes of a pushover, you might have noticed that you are the first person everybody comes to, whether it is to get their shift covered or if they need a space for their unsolicited outbursts.
When we have created ourselves a reputation, it is almost impossible to step out of it. Hence, as a pushover, people have a hard time saying ‘no’ to any favors a person asks of them – even if they are physically, mentally, and emotionally incapable of meeting the demand. This is the reason why most people so unapologetically ask a pushover for help; they are sure that they will get an affirmative response. They show no regard for the boundaries, and that is because we have allowed them to do so. By not maintaining and respecting our own boundaries and letting people step over them at their whim, despite the displeasure that we feel, we give off an impression that our boundaries simply do not exist. This is detrimental on all levels.
In a fantastical world, I could’ve simply expected you to choose not to be a pushover right after reading this article. But in our very real, imperfect world, letting go of our long-cultivated behaviors and practices of being a pushover will take a lot of work. It is important to recognize that a pushover person may be the product of diminishing self-esteem and codependency. One really good piece of advice I could give you that would help you not be such a pushover is to be kind to yourself. In hopes to make life better for others, we often botch it for ourselves.
The reason why being kind and being a pushover are such diverging phenomena is because being kind also entails honesty. A kind person is just as willing to help a person in need as they are to say no. If you cannot communicate your honest opinions to your ‘friends’, are they really your friends? If your honesty results in a loss, then it really isn’t a loss. Being assertive isn’t bad or selfish. It loosely translates to respecting ourselves at times when we sense the other person is not doing so. It is okay to disappoint people sometimes. It is okay to not be able to help everyone all the time. Kindness does not always manifest in action. I hope that someday all of us find it in ourselves to be kind to others while also being kind to ourselves.