A matter of allegiance

There is little I value more in someone than kindness. Few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness.

Kind is defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” The definition is incomplete. Kind is also having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help yourself by being kind to yourself; wanting and liking to do good things and bring happiness to your life as well as to the lives of others.

I was in the sauna  at my local YMCA recently when I heard a conversation going on just outside the door. One person was offering a helpful suggestion to another person who’d been dealing with a painful condition for some time. Hearing the kindness and compassion in the voice of the one offering support coupled with the heartfelt emotional tones of appreciation in the voice of the one receiving the support brought me to tears. There are many things I love about life, moments like these are among my favorites.

Like you, I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and cruelty. Never too much of the former, always too much of the latter. As a writer I instinctively pay close attention to the world I live in. One component of that world is the interaction between people, their patterns of thought and emotion, the multitude of ways in which they interact with and treat each other, as well as the ways in which they interact with and treat themselves. It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with life absent a healthy relationship with self.  It is not possible to have a healthy relationship with self without an allegiance to honesty.

Now, if I told you I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my life my nose would respond with a vigorous Pinocchio response and make a sizeable hole in the monitor’s screen. So, I won’t lie to you. I won’t lie to you because, one, I am committed to living an honest life, and, two, I’m rather fond of my monitor.

It would be understandable if you’re wondering how an essay that starts off talking about kindness has somehow meandered its way to honesty and dishonesty. It’s done so because I believe when dishonesty is one of life’s underpinnings, acts of kindness are often self-serving, designed to make an impression or illicit a particular response. There are times apparent acts of kindness are rooted in unhealthy antecedents which, by their nature, are destructive. To the person offering the “kindness” and to the person receiving it.

This brings me back to allegiance. Is it healthy or misplaced? That’s the question.  For years dishonesty was an underpinning of my life because my allegiance was to alcohol and drugs. In short, to addiction. When anyone is caught in the addiction web – a web that can include addiction to food, work, sex, shopping, etc. – life becomes about protecting the addiction rather than protecting the life. A lifestyle like this leaves nothing  in its wake but carnage.  A carnage that includes the destruction of relationships, friendships, families, children, jobs, careers, education, hopes, dreams, and, life. I could name many – some of whom I loved and love still – who are dead because of  addiction. I know some today who will no doubt add to these numbers unless they shift allegiance from addiction to self.

Stepping out from behind the dishonesty mask is a scary. It is also the first step in reclaiming – or for the first time claiming – the right to one’s self. For me, the thought of reaching the end of my life still entrenched in the addiction web and hidden behind the dishonesty mask was far scarier – it also made me blisteringly angry. First, I would die without ever  fully living life as myself, and, second, those that wounded me would’ve had control of my choices right up to the moment of my death.  They don’t deserve that kind of power.

And then there is this: I know no kindness greater than saving a life, including one’s own. As I said, there is little I value more in someone than kindness and few things move me more than witnessing or learning about real acts of kindness, including those that are self-inflicted.

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