I was sick most of last week, but luckily I’m almost back to normal. You know those last few days of a cold where you want to take it easy but naps are no longer needed? That’s the time where I dive into something Young Adult – easy to read or watch, but still stimulates your brain. And that is exactly what I did. I read a YA book and started watching Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix (based on a YA novel – but admittedly, not always easy to watch).
Being a teenager is hard and they have to deal with a lot of crap. And, for the most part, it’s the first time they have those bad experiences, which make them even harder. Even though I am technically a full-on adult now (what even defines an adult?), I’m still having some of these experiences for the first time. Or maybe I never personally had them, but I know someone in my adult life who did and I can see the scars left behind.
In both the book I read and Thirteen Reasons Why, as in a lot of YA and books in general, the theme of kindness runs through, or to be more specific, the lack thereof. When we’re teenagers, kindness is often forgotten. There are so many changes happening – physically, mentally, emotionally – that we often become selfish, myself included. Every time I read a realistic YA novel, I always find myself reflecting on my own teenage years. And to be honest, there’s a lot I wish I had done differently.
I changed friend groups a couple of times for various reasons, but just because we didn’t have lunch together or hang out after school anymore, I could have been a lot kinder to those I left behind. My school wasn’t massive, so we had classes together, we passed each other on campus, many of us even danced together. We all knew each other. I know some schools are bigger so this isn’t true of all high schools, but it was with mine.
I wasn’t a mean girl (and I hope others didn’t see me as one), but looking back I acknowledge how much nicer I should have been. I said my fair share of rude comments about others. I believed in gossip and passed it on. I judged people that didn’t have the same morals as me. I tried to make people that had hurt me jealous, specifically an ex. I did things because I thought they would make me cool. And of course I made mistakes.
As teenagers often get, I had my moods and if I didn’t want to talk to someone, I would give such short answers hoping they would go away. I won’t name names, but there’s one girl in particular that was incredibly kind but others saw her as a little weird. Hey, I was seen as a little weird too (and still am) so I didn’t care about that. But to this day I can still remember an instance senior year where I was sitting alone reading and she sat down next to me and tried to talk. At the time I was a bit annoyed and didn’t want to talk so I followed my short answer technique and eventually I went back to reading and we just sat in silence for a little while until one of us had to go on to the next thing. Looking back as an adult, I know she was just being nice, she might have thought I wanted company since I was alone, or maybe she just wanted company. And I just dismissed her. This wasn’t a big life-changing bad experience like many depicted in high school books or shows, but the fact that I still remember this and still feel bad about how I treated her, not just then but through all of high school, gives it value. And unfortunately she wasn’t the only friend I should have treated better.
Of course there’s nothing I can do about it now. I can’t go back and change who I was. Maybe I had to go through my moods and past experiences to become the person I am today. But even today I know I can do better. Kindness isn’t something you have or don’t, but it can be practiced, just like yoga. Will I still make some mistakes, say something or act a certain way that I later regret? Yeah, probably. I’m not perfect. But I can keep practicing. It can be as simple as pausing before saying something, taking two seconds out of my day to give a compliment, or it can be as complicated as learning to hold back judgement, trying to control my facial expressions, or change my way of thinking. We can do all the nice things in the world, but the mean words and actions are what stick with us the longest. And that’s what keeps me motivated to continue to be better.
So instead of knocking each other down, always putting ourselves first, let’s band together and be kind. There has been more than one occasion recently where one of my students has said something nice to me and they had no idea how impactful their words were. Even though the cruel stuff leaves scars, a little kindness can go a long way too, and that should never be forgotten.
Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
― Henry James