Wednesday 20 January 2021

How to Be Kind and Clever

I’ve played Taylor Swift’s most recent album Evermore a lot since it came out in December. Four lines in particular caught my attention, from the song “Marjorie.”

Never be so kind
You forget to be clever
Never be so clever
You forget to be kind

Let’s take a look at what it means to be kind and clever; clever and kind.

Never Be So Kind You Forget to Be Clever

I mentioned my idea for an article inspired by these lyrics to my friend and fellow blogger Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered. She immediately understood what I meant.

“Maybe something like the importance of looking after yourself whilst supporting someone else?”

“Yes! That’s exactly the sort of thing I was thinking about. Being there / being helpful / being kind on the one hand, but also being “clever” about boundaries.

There can be an uneasy balance between wanting to be kind on the one hand and being clever (or wise) about it on the other. It might appear a good thing to be relentlessly and selflessly kind, but in my experience selflessness is profoundly unhealthy. Unchecked, it can lead to emotional and physical burnout, frustration, and codependency. In my mother’s case, a lifetime of supporting others exacerbated a deeply rooted self-doubt and led ultimately to anxiety, depression, and despair.

I think it helps to see boundaries as being kind to yourself as well as to others, rather than as erecting walls that keep you apart from other people. Self-kindness can take many forms. I explored a few that are meaningful to me in an article I wrote last year. The first of these was boundary work:

Kindness isn’t always easy, whether it’s showing kindness to others, accepting it from others, or being kind to yourself. Kindness isn’t fluffy, soppy, or superficial. At its heart, kindness is about honesty, respect, and maintaining healthy boundaries. I’ve done a lot of work this week on my boundaries, to see which are truly important and protect me from harm, and which are walls my ego has erected to defend an inflated sense of self-worth. It’s tough work but I feel I’m making progress, with the help of friends I trust to be honest with me. That’s kindness in action, right there.

Being wisely kind also means respecting the boundaries of others. Sometimes, the wisest and kindest thing is to recognise that the other person doesn’t want or need our help right now.

Never Be So Clever You Forget to Be Kind

Boundaries are not an excuse or apology for failing to help people when help is wanted and you’re able to provide it. On the contrary, maintaining healthy boundaries means we’re better prepared to be kind when the opportunity arises. In the words of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

It’s worth remembering that kindness benefits you as much as the person on the receiving end. Done right, it’s an exchange which leaves both parties enriched. In the words of singer/songwriter Ruth Bebermeyer,

When you give to me,
I give you my receiving.
When you take from me, I feel so
given to.

And it’s never been more important — more clever — to practice kindness. As the coronavirus pandemic took hold around the world, the Mental Health Foundation chose kindness as the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 “because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity. Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity.” Or, as Fran put it in her essay Kindness is the Key for Maine-based mental health non-profit Family Hope, “Social interactions can be lifesaving or death provoking. When people are aware and understanding they can be the tipping point between life and death.”

Being too clever, or overthinking, can get in the way of kindness. It’s too easy to find ourselves meting out our coins of kindness as though others need to deserve our consideration. I touched on this in 16 Ways to Be Kind for last year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

Did you ever see someone asking for help, on the street or online, and pass them by because maybe they’re not genuinely in need or you wonder what they might do with the money? Put your suspicions, judgements and counter-arguments on hold for a day and take the next person you meet at face value.

In similar vein. Aimee Wilson suggested doing one random act of kindness each day in a guest post for us at the start of lockdown last year:

I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter recently purchasing an item from someone’s Amazon wishlist and I thought that was a brilliant idea! You could also send a nice email or even just a thoughtful gif or quote!

Kindness doesn’t always mean doing something specific for someone else. It can be as simple as living genuinely and honestly, as this unattributed quotation attests:

There are people in your life whom you unknowingly inspire simply by being you.

I was blessed the other day to receive two random acts of kindness and appreciation. One thanked me for the posts I share on social media, saying, “They really help.” The second thanked me for my support, compassion, and friendship. I had little idea my life impacted on theirs so positively. Their kindness meant a great deal to me.

Getting the Balance Right

I’ve included several quotations in this post, because other people’s wisdom and experience can shine a light into our lives. But it’s an act of self-kindness to acknowledge our own wisdom. As I was writing this article I came across something I posted on social media a couple of years ago. It was a photo of clasped hands with the words “Always help someone. You might be the only one that does.” With the image I’d shared a few words of my own. Rereading them, I smiled. They are relevant not only to this article but also to my life at this moment. I share them here for you.

Yes, healthy boundaries are important. Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves before we are in a place to help others. And sometimes we are not the person they need. But that doesn’t negate the simple message that we can all make a difference. YOU can make a difference. Be the person, perhaps the only person, who doesn’t turn away. Who picks up. Who dares to care.


Main image: Balcony Concerts, by Catherine Cordasco. “I would like through this illustration to show solidarity, generosity, creativity between people even with social distancing. We are all together and we all support and take care of everyone!” Submitted for the United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives. United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash.


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