Where does kindness come from?

Despite my radio silence on the blog, I am actively pursuing my internal call to write more in 2019. Too bad that much of said writing is taking place in either a journal or also-journal that happens to be the home of a short story in progress. I think. I wish.

After a conversation with a good friend this morning about the need for self-compassion and grace (both such traits I consider to be works-in-progress for me), I ruminated later on about the art of kindness and why in the world our species (for the most part) decided that kindness was an action that had value, that mattered. If we are to survive, isn’t kindness a weakness? Doesn’t a demonstration of care reveal a vulnerability that any and all should exploit in order to absorb our resources?

Disclaimer: I have done zero research and I hold no education/training in evolutionary biology. But, in a random Tuesday afternoon zoning-out moment, the concept of kindness baffled me. What is its purpose in our world? And why has it been easier for us to build a society that honors kindness to others but scoffs or even rejects kindness to oneself?

The first piece of the puzzle for me is: what exactly is kindness? If it’s about being friendly, why not just use the word friendly? If it’s about doing a good deed, why not describe it as such without creating another duplicative word?

According to some cursory internet searches (everyone’s favorite — headlines FTW!), kindness appears to have first surfaced around the 14th century as kyndness meaning “nation” and “produce, an increase.” Wait, what? Kindness has something to do with nation-building? Or making?

A second definition of kindness via an Internet search comes from the reputable (?) BibleStudyTools.Com where kindness is:

“An attribute of God and quality desirable but not consistently found in humans.”

If you continue reading the section outlining how kindness shows up in different biblical texts, you’ll see that the author argues that kindness does not come naturally; but, at the same time, there is no such thing as people being unkind (apparently, you were not trying to find a parking spot near Mad Hatter’s in Durham in which every open spot is treated as a challenge on “The Amazing Race”).

What do you think kindness is? Is it the same as grace? Does kindness matter? I feel like a definition of kindness must include the word authentic. I’ve certainly been on the giving and receiving end of inauthentic kindness. Even good deeds can have dual purposes (hello philanthropy!)

I’m not sure where I’m wanting this ramble to go, if anywhere. Don’t get me wrong: I love kindness. Harking back to the Old English definition of “produce, an increase”, kindness has the power to spread and grow. It produces a shift in understanding of the world and of the people within it. Kindness reminds us that beauty and love exist; that people do see us and acknowledge that we breathe the same air.

Kindness is earned by those who show it in daily practice. I would like to demonstrate kindness — to people I know and those I don’t. Sometimes, I feel that pull to be unkind: to cut someone short, to cut someone off. I have an inner meanie who broods and snaps to attention on the days where sleep was scarce or emotions are extra-heavy. And, the recipient for the brunt of that criticism: me.

Do you have an inner monster too? I think we all do. I think we can all be unkind. It’s a choice. Each moment offers one. Here’s to a 2019 full of more kindness, the kind that produces and prospers and leads to a nation of kind people.

Perhaps a tad ambitious. Is it 2020 yet?

Why I had to stop using My Fitness Pal for good

As I began to think about the day ahead, anxiety would immediately take over, especially if there was a scheduled meal out. What would I order? How would it balance out with the rest of my allotted calories for the day? I studied menus with fervor, dissecting ingredients and dreaming up ways to make the meal even healthier.

At night, I would try and ignore my rumbling tummy. Too bad, stomach. I had reached my calories for the day. Here’s some water to tide you over until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when the cycle would begin again.

I became obsessed with MyFitnessPal for the first time back in 2014. Since then, there have been several instances when I revisited the food and exercise tracking app. Unsurprisingly, I took up my restrictive eating ways during times of stress and chaos. This is (was) how I could exert control. Forget the political climate, social injustice, and self-generated responsibilities. I could domineer my physical self. I could take up less space, slink into smaller clothes. My hip bones rose like the Himalayas. My face sunk in like Crater Lake. At my peak, I was down to my lowest weight since middle school.

But, all of this “progress” took so much time and effort. Even before eating, I would plug the contents of my next meal (or even meals if I was feeling ambitious) into my log. 24 calories there. 106 calories there. I would review my macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients. Too many carbohydrates? Beef up on the lentils and legumes. Too much fat? Leave off that avocado. Each bite accounted for. Sometimes, I would race to my phone after ingestion to make sure it was recorded.

While I can’t remember all of the details from my first go-round, I do know that I was willing to cancel dates out with friends because I was scared about eating in a restaurant. At that time, it was hard enough to be vegan, But to be vegan AND on the brink of starving myself? There aren’t a lot of eateries that cater to such a lifestyle. (Note: that isn’t a lifestyle. At all. Choosing to be plant-based is one thing. Harming oneself with the intentional depletion of vital nutrients and energies is another).

Why am I sharing this? Because it’s a new year, and many people (I’m not saying you, but I bet you know someone who might be) choose to start some sort of new diet. The “wellness” trend as of late is still a diet. Yes, Whole 30 is a diet. Paleo is a diet. When we decide to label certain foods as “good” versus “bad”, we’re establishing a moral code. If we break such a code, we may experience feelings of guilt or shame.

I certainly felt a great deal of guilt and shame when my daily caloric intake was higher than whatever arbitrary number MyFitnessPal offered me based on some fast and loose algorithm. Alright, perhaps that is too harsh as I know that the app, as a tool, can be incredibly informative in understanding how the various items we put into our bodies contributes (or doesn’t) to our overall nutritional health. For me, I used the information as a weapon against myself, which turned into a weapon against others.

When you’re hungry, you are a GRUMP! You are tired. You lack energy. You probably don’t want to have sex or dance or go to a movie because you have to smell that popcorn AND HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN THAT SMALL?

In this time of resolutions and goal-setting, I want to encourage you (or those others in your life would may be struggling with weight or body image) to do some self-reflection behind the “why” of the desire to become smaller or healthier. Over the last few weeks, I have done an about face on the “Food Psych” podcast with Dr. Christy Harrison. When I first started to listen, I thought she was full of shit. Of course a thin body is healthier. Of course there are awful foods that should never be consumed.

Despite my initial skepticism (to put it mildly), I kept listening. And took in more. And allowed myself to dig deeper into the rabbit hole of “why.” When did “healthy” become part of the mainstream dialogue? How did the rise of small-bodied people as culturally superior connect with racism in our country? What does healthy actually mean? Why do I spend so much time worrying about what I’m going to eat?

I tried to use MyFitnessPal back in October (hello gala planning), and it was a flop. I recall trying to input my morning breakfast at a stoplight and feeling so stressed out that if I didn’t type in that oatmeal and banana and peanut butter right then that I would FAIL And the light had turned green and there I was…still plunking away at a screen. Not doing my job as a driver.

And then I was done. I didn’t want to dedicate one more minute of my life cataloguing food. There’s too much else in the world to do.

One of my commitments for 2019 is to continue to explore intuitive eating and trust my body to tell me what it needs, when I’m hungry (not when I think I should be hungry), and when I’m full. I refuse to spend time charting out meals and missing out on people I want to be with because of my culturally-conditioned believes around how I should show up in spaces. I wish for you, for me, and for everyone, that we are all able to find peace with our bodies, and ultimately peace with ourselves.