My daughter asked me a question the other day that on the surface seemed kind of childish and selfish. Yet, it’s something that, even as an adult, I still wrestle with in my mind and in my heart. She said, “Mom, what do you do when people don’t recognize your kindness?”
Jordan went on to explain there is a girl in her group of friends who seems to need a little extra love these days. Always one to pounce on a challenge, Jordan started daily acts of service. She gave up her seat at lunch, which meant sitting with other classmates at a different table. She bowed out of a group project with two close friends so this girl could take her spot. She is making it her mission to find ways to make this girl feel special and included, even when it means taking a backseat to her own desires.
It’s the very essence and definition of kindness, and I’m as proud as a momma peacock.
The problem is, this other girl isn’t acknowledging Jordan’s kindness. She isn’t being mean, but she also isn’t saying “thank you” or offering sacrificial kindness in return. She’s just sort of going on with her life. Which leads my daughter to ask, “Mom, what do you do when people don’t recognize your kindness?”
That’s a tough one. The older she gets, the more these questions seem to appear. Why do people act certain ways? Why doesn’t that person like me? What can I do to change this situation? My sweet girl will soon enter the land of teenagers and the stakes will continue to grow. Each question carries more weight. How am I supposed to teach her what I am still learning?
I took a deep breath, prayed for wisdom and jumped in.
I was honest. I told her I understand her question because I often ask myself the same thing. There are times when I give someone something and they don’t say “thank you” and it bugs me. I have given people pricey presents only to find out they have re-gifted them to their dogs. I sometimes reach into my wallet and wonder if the person I’m giving to will expect more in the future.
When I start having those thoughts, I check my motives. Why am I helping that person? Why am I giving that gift? Do I want to be elevated somehow? Am I hoping to make them like me? Am I hoping others will see me and know I’m super-duper amazingly generous?
Or does my gift come from a place of gratitude? Am I so filled with love and thanksgiving that it can’t help but overflow onto the people around me? Do I give because I love others or because I want to be loved?
The difference is crucial.
If you are looking to be loved and accepted by other people, your kindness will always fall short. The power of kindness doesn’t come from an outside reaction, it comes from the spark of energy that ignites inside of you when you work to make someone else’s day brighter.
It’s called “giving” because we must let go. We must do the kindness that our hearts prompt us to do, and then walk away, knowing that we fulfilled our responsibility. The outcome isn’t up to us.
If we feel like we are being taken advantage of, then perhaps our hearts will prompt us not to give to that person in the future, and that’s okay. We just can’t allow our brains to park in a spot where we are discouraged or perturbed.
The last thing I reminded Jordan (and myself) is that we are all human, and as humans, we love to be applauded. It’s in our DNA. So when it seems like no one notices, let me assure you, they do. I have people whom I have never done anything thoughtful for who say to me, “You are so kind and you have such a kind family.”
Kindness is never wasted. It makes your day better, it makes your character stronger, and even if it’s not being acknowledged by the recipient, it’s being noted by someone.
So what do you do when people don’t recognize your kindness? Love on. The applause is just a bonus.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.