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When I think about my road to understanding that kindness is not a weakness, I think about Hufflepuffs. If you have been living anywhere other than under a rock since 1997, you know about Harry Potter. If you are anything like me, you avidly soaked up every magical word of JKR's beloved stories. This means that your know about the school houses.
It is in this last house that I find myself, and for a long time I thought this meant I had no measurable value. Gryffindors are brave, Slytherins are cunning, and Ravenclaws are intelligent. Hufflepuffs? They are kind and loyal, unafraid of toil. Not the most glamourous description.
I wasn't brave, cunning, or particularly intelligent. All I had was a good memory, and even that has slowed down.
This left me with kindness and loyalty. And what good did it do me to be kind when so often my kindness to others had only given me sorrow?
I remember vividly standing up for a young girl who was being bullied. She was being bullied by people who I had presumed to be my friends. They turned their wrath onto me and within a week I found that at my small-town middle school I was friendless.
I wept bitter tears, and realized that if I had looked out for myself, I wouldn't have lost all my friends. It didn't matter that they weren't good people. I felt punished; why should I suffer when I am doing what is supposedly the good thing?
I felt like what everyone told me a Hufflepuff was; someone who was weak. Sure you could call it brave, standing up to my friends, but it wasn't bravery because I did not realize that I needed to be afraid. If I had known that the outcome I experienced was at all possible, I am ashamed to say that I don't know if I would have done what I did.
It took me a long time to realize that kindness was not a weakness. I struggled with it throughout high school and university. I extended my hand, only to have it slapped away.
It happened when I tried to be considerate of others, only to have the backlash fall onto me. As a people-pleaser, I was caught in a terrible cycle. Be kind to people so that our relationship will be good, only to be steamrolled because I was easy to push over.
It took a long time for me to realize that with kindness comes a responsibility to yourself. I finally figured it out; I had to be kind to everyone, including me.
Then, little by little, I began to see that kindness was not a weakness, but a strength. It became the cornerstone of my relationships with everyone. I used kindness as a way to demonstrate my value. I have many other merits; I do work hard, I'm creative, I think I'm pretty funny. But it was my kindness and my commitment to others that made me stand out.
I remember the first time my kindness felt like a strength. I was in a new province, surrounded by people I didn't know. I shyly flitted around the edges of the crowd, keen to avoid being noticed. I detest standing out in a crowd. But I knew that no one was going to take initiative if I didn't do it as well.
So I did. I didn't try to be funny or clever or overly brave. I just decided to be kind. I asked how people were, I expressed interest in their answers. I opened myself up wholeheartedly. To those who responded in kind, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
But what made me feel strong was my ability to be kind to myself, in that I was able to sever ties with those who made me feel less, and I did it with as much kindness as I could.
And while it is not always perfect, for the most part, I am happier when I am kind.
I watch people who are not kind suffer for their actions. People who choose to hold onto grudges and inflict wounds on others to make themselves feel better - but they never do.
Meanwhile, I feel the benefits of kindness. Kind words I speak, or thoughts I have, beget good. I learn every day that just because I am a people pleaser, that I like to make people feel good, doesn't mean I cannot succeed as an individual with a voice. The only difference is that my voice is assertive in a different way.
I choose to use kindness to others as a measurement for success. If I have gone a whole day without a cross word to others, I have succeeded. In turn, in a mature world, my kindness is met with kindness.
I also measure how kind I am to myself. I do not punish myself when something goes wrong, or I am not able to make everyone happy. Instead, I do my best and allow myself to feel good about it.
Hufflepuffs are not weak. Kindness is not a weakness. It is a strength that many people are not fortunate enough to possess. You could be brave, intelligent and cunning. But I'll choose to be kind.
Kindness is not a weakness because it takes remarkable strength. Don't let a day go by without exercising that strength. Simply reaching out a hand could encourage others to do the same.