All throughout my early life, my mom consistently reminded me of a few key rules I should follow, perhaps the most important being that I should be nice to everyone. Be nice without expecting anything in return, and especially be kind in the face of those who are not. It was one of those ideas that I always kept somewhere in the back of my mind but didn't really pay much attention to. After all, I generally had always just tried to be a good person, though admittedly I didn't try very hard to go out of my way to be nice.
A few years ago in eighth grade, I reflected on the idea that if I was rude to someone and they were kind in response, it actually inspired me to actively attempt to amend my behavior. I saw that someone being kind in the face of hostility raised my opinion of that person more than I ever thought it would. Because of this, I decided to give my mom's advice a real effort, instead of smiling and nodding while silently believing that the world doesn't work that way. I made the decision to be the absolute nicest person I could possibly be in every situation. Of course that didn't always work out, but throughout eighth grade I genuinely tried to be outwardly nice, especially when others didn't reciprocate the effort. When a few people created a list titled "Reasons Why Jillian is a Bitch" and invited classmates to contribute, I went up and apologized to them. I made it my mission to hide how hurt I was and try to mend the bridges by saying I was sorry for however I acted to make them hate me. I met every rude and derogatory remark that was sure to come as the year progressed with a smile and kind words. I convinced myself I liked everyone, and that if I just tried hard enough they would all like me too. I tried so, so hard.
Typically, this would be the part of the story where I say that I learned being kind in the face of rudeness works, and that I am forever changed to be the happiest and most kind-hearted person there is, vowing to destroy darkness from the world. But you know what? That didn't happen. As the year went on, those who were mean took advantage of my submissive attitude and everything got much worse. When I greeted summer with a tear-streaked face, I deemed my kindness experiment a miserable failure and stopped all efforts to be outwardly nice. Freshman-year-me cursed middle-school-me for being so naive and stupid. I lacked patience and understanding, judged too quickly, and made little effort to get to know people I decided I didn't want to. I didn't forgive. I didn't forget. I dismissed people and didn't look back.
Finally, in the fall of my sophomore year, I went on a required trip with about fifty other kids that I barely knew to find God somewhere up in the mountains of Big Bear for a weekend, and I asked a priest whether or not it was a sin to not forgive someone. He said no, not technically, but then asked me to recite the Our Father. Inevitably I came across the phrase "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Oh. I spent a lot of time thinking about the change I made from eighth grade to ninth grade. Yeah, I might not have been walked all over, but misanthropy wasn't a great life philosophy either. That trip made me realize that while my attitude experiment didn't work out as I had envisioned, I really didn't want to lose the good person that I was trying to become.
We need balance. I've come to that conclusion when comparing my years of extremes. I want to be as nice as I can, but not to the point where I can't realize when I have to walk away. I have to look out for others while not forgetting to look out for myself too. The lessons I've learned from those experiences have made this past year that much better and I'm sure future experiences will change my approach to life even more. So in summary, try to do the right thing, but when it doesn't work out it's important to not get discouraged and just give up on the whole institution of trying exceptionally hard to do the right thing like I did. Yes, some days it won't work, but that doesn't mean it never will, and I for one want to be sure I am there to grasp the opportunity when it does.
Sometimes it can feel like the world has a lot more darkness than it has happiness. There are actions that each of us are capable of taking to bring light to that seemingly overwhelmingly dark world. The choices we make determine whether or not that capability shines through. Sharing your voice, your story, and what you ultimately learned or didn't learn is one of those opportunities to bring our own light. By that, I mean that even though the bulk of my blog post was somewhat gloomy, I genuinely believe it helps others to know they are not alone (because let's face it, with seven billion people in the world the odds are what's happening in your life is nothing new) and even more so to see how others dealt with similar situations. So please, share whatever you like on this page because I guarantee your voice is meaningful and worth hearing.