Kindness in a World of Toxicity: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Kindness in a World of Toxicity: Breaking the Fourth Wall

December 27, 2022

By: Charlene Divine Catral

“What we remember in the great times of struggle or when overcoming adversity, aren’t the days that were hardest to get through but rather the people who were kindest, when we needed it most.”

Kirsten Corley

Most of us tend to keep ourselves busy each day, taking up more tasks along the way. Even after accomplishing one task, there is a tendency to take up more — regardless if the original pile of work did not significantly change. Having a long list of to-dos has become the norm. Instead of feeling a sense of relief when we try to take small breaks, anxiety looms deep within ourselves, making us wonder whether moments of respite could truly help us reach optimal productivity. These commitments are accompanied by daily adversaries — personal, financial, emotional problems and mere expectations as the breadwinner, or a child in the household. In reality, a short pause cannot always be found in the momentum of speeding through each day. That is, until it overwhelming overflows, leading to feelings of incompetence, loneliness, and depression — the result: a fruition of the idea that the world is against us. This culture is quite common in Asian environments, most especially in the Philippines, where success is measured by the amount of work one does; where poverty is coined as a result of laziness rather than that of systemic circumstances; and where failure is dubbed to be caused by one’s neglect.

Unfortunately, many still fail to see that the world is already harsh enough. Cultural beliefs of “not doing enough”, “being lazy”, or even “failure defines you” rarely actually serve as encouragement; rather, these push one further away. Everyone faces their own demons and struggles to climb the top of their own mountains, so why is there a lack of empathy for those who are in search of their own happiness and self? A small act of kindness could go a long way, especially knowing that each of our demons do not just magically disappear at a specific time in the day or a particular moment of our lives. Challenges and struggles persist for they are partly what shape a person’s actualization. However, this does not mean we should be hindrances that contribute to the hardships of others. Instead we could provide the necessary support others need by being kind, lending a helping hand, or extending a listening ear. We need to be kind, even if the world is not kind to us.

Smile, say “hello”. This can be to break the ice in the room or even as you pass by someone you know in the halls of Calderon. This small gesture may be the push one needs to move forward and take courage in facing what looms ahead. Studies have shown that different smiles display a variety of emotions that you are able to communicate through one simple gesture. A genuine smile, coined as the “Duchenne smile”, is formed through the movement of the zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi muscles presenting positive emotion towards others and to one’s self (Jaffe, 2011). This suggests that expressing positive emotion through your smiles not only helps others feel a fleet of happiness, but you benefit as well as it stimulates positive feelings to flow within you.

Give compliments and help those in need. Notice something you like about another person, or simply just want to make their day? Do not hesitate or second guess! Not only can this strengthen your bonds, but it also can build up their confidence and self-esteem. And do not underestimate the tangible form of help either. If you find someone literally carrying numerous things all at once, offer an extra hand. You never know just how much more intangible weight they are carrying at the same time.

Swap ill feelings for compassion. Have you ever encountered someone who is having a bad day and seems to be very expressive about their current emotions? Yes, it is understandable to be irritated when on the receiving end of someone’s anger and aggression, but fire with fire is not the solution. Be as respectful and mindful as possible. Watch your own words, mind your tone and language, and try to understand where they are coming from. You can ask them if they need advice, someone to talk to, or if there is anything you could do to help. Should they have offended you in any way, you may gently explain it to them when they have already simmered and cooled down so that they will be more receptive, too.

Always say “thank you”. Expressing one’s gratitude to another does not only help others feel good, but helps in validating their efforts—knowing that they are recognized so that at the end of the day, they could look back and think, “my effort was all worth it”. Saying thank you when someone goes out of their way to help you, even through the smallest of things could be a real game changer to many who are struggling and wondering of their worth in this world.

These are only a few examples of how you can show kindness to others. The situation of another may be unbeknownst to us; there are realities in this world that are not kind. Although a lack of kindness exists at times, we can take on the responsibility to fill the gap. One need not share the entire burden of another; others only hope to attain a warm, sincere smile or even a simple “hello”. Resilience has its limits, too. What keeps people going through each day is not the material things, nor fame and glory. The little “why’s” are what motivate people everyday, how one’s purpose has grown from dreams to realities, or how friends and family ceaselessly support these aspirations. We must never forget to be kind even if the world is not kind to us; for only in kindness can people remain strong and move forward.