My face flushed when I saw the messages, which came on the same morning, from two different people.
“You need to look at your own life.”
“You claim to be about kindness, but you aren’t always kind. I’ve seen it.”
The messages, unprovoked, as far as I can tell, were from two different, seemingly unconnected parties who apparently take offense to my politics – as well as our family’s small efforts to bring food, toiletries and other needed items to people in our community who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. Both also suggested that maybe I should not run a Daily Kindness Challenge group if I’m not 100 percent kind all the time.
The flushing in my face and the hard knot pulsing in my stomach are both familiar feelings. It is something that was used to control me as a child, and one something has also shaped my behavior as an adult more than it should.
Shame for not being perfect.
Shame that while I really do want to serve others, I fall short each day, without fail.
I felt ashamed because yes, I know that I could do more. And I know that there are better, more virtuous folks out there who could do this work better, more consistently, and with more insight.
One of the criticisms I received that day is that “even after you feed people, they still don’t have homes. You aren’t really doing anything.”
But here is the thing – while I am also part of some systemic attempts to make this world better, I recognize that immediate needs must be met, too.
It is kind and good to feed people, even while we also are having bigger conversations about how they can eat and be sheltered long-term. And sometimes, it is easy to allow systemic conversations to keep us from taking authentic action.
To me, our homeless efforts are a beautiful way to say, “life is complicated, but we can do something right now.” We don’t need anyone’s permission. We don’t need a committee. We don’t need to fill out a pile of paperwork. We buy the food. We find the people who need it, and we share.
Both short and long-term needs must be met. And while many things are complex, feeding people, giving them cold water and hand sanitizer and masks, can actually be magically simple.
I was tempted to hide the criticisms that were hurled at me and my family – and for a bit I did, because the wounds were fresh. I also feared that in sharing them, others would see even more of my shortcomings than they already do.
Sadly, life has taught me that not everyone who smiles at you is your friend. And even people you think are your friends may be tearing you down when you aren’t there.
But there is great freedom in putting the criticism out there, really.
I actually WANT you to know the “ugly” truth.
I don’t run a Daily Kindness Challenge page on Facebook because I am exceptionally kind. I do it because I think kindness has value, and that it’s worthwhile to try to encourage it. When I post reminders about what we can do to make this world a smidge better, I don’t do that because I think other people need them. I do it because I know that I need them – and if I need them, maybe others could benefit, too. If nothing else, it can’t hurt.
The same is true of our efforts to help those who are homeless. I have family members who have struggled with homelessness for one reason or another. I am painfully aware that we are all a mental illness, an addiction or a catastrophic event or three away from the same situation.
I don’t think of myself as being especially vulnerable to the controlling influence of shame anymore. But on that day, when two different people chose to pile on, it did sting a bit. I was temporarily paralyzed.
But here’s the thing. Day to day, as I am able, I am DOING something. And I’m trying very hard not to tear down others in the process. There is no room for shame in that.
Maybe you have things you want to do, too. And maybe – just maybe – you are being held back by feelings of shame and of not being “good enough” to lead and to share and to grow.
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to apologize. You don’t have to hide your light. Put one foot in front of the other, consider the needs of others, and serve.
It really is that easy, when we move beyond our shame.