I experienced a particularly tough day at work. I am a school social worker, so my job is full of ups and downs. But, this day was especially heavy on my heart. The day was full of minor frustrations, the kind that wouldn’t be too much on their own but together they compounded. Then an incident happened with a student who I had worked closely with for some time. This girl had been through a lot; I supported her when she felt defeated, encouraged her to come to school when she would have rather disappeared, and despite her intensity, I consistently showed up. On this particular day, she made a pretty big mistake. I was obligated to follow through with the consequences and provide accountability. I did my best to explain to her that everyone makes mistakes; she had to take responsibility for her choice, but it didn’t change the fact that she was still a good person. Unfortunately, this is not what she heard. She was understandably upset: upset with herself, upset with me for holding her accountable, upset with life and the unfair cards she had been dealt. But, in that moment all of the frustration and anger about everything was directed at me. She said hurtful things. Called into question my motives for doing my job, twisted previous conversations, called me every hurtful name she could think of, and made threats to hurt me. My heart broke. Not just because of the words she was saying, but because of how much I knew she was hurting. Because of how much I cared for her and how she didn’t see it. Despite knowing that I should not take her reaction personally, her words still hurt.
I went home that night, determined to “leave work at work.” But the problem was, I couldn’t. The argument and the situation weighed on me, causing me to feel emotional and exhausted. The most frustrating, negative thought lingered in my head, “how could she think those things about me?”
I read a devotional later that night and the Bible verse was 1 John 4:7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Then I had a clear realization. I don’t do my job so that my students will love me. I do what I do because I am a person who loves! It was as simple as that. I wrote in my devotional journal that night: “I know I care about my students, sometimes maybe too much. I know I let my heart get invested and sometimes take their hurtful words too personally. But, that is ok. Because, that is who I am. I am a person who loves.”
There was a shift in a couple areas of my work after this epiphany. First, I have a new self-compassion mantra for myself. When I find myself getting caught up in the chaos and the hurtful, misdirected anger of students dealing with difficult experiences, I close my eyes and remind myself that I will choose my reaction in the situation based on who I am. I will react as the person I want to be. This has helped me stay calm through the chaos.
Second, I have started teaching this idea to students. I’ve started pushing students to think about the person they want to be (realizing they might not know the answer yet). I prompt them, “Do you want to be a person who shares kindness?” And remind them that in the end they get to decide; the choice about who they are, that is up to them. Then I say, “If you decide to be a person who shares kindness, you need to know that other people are still going to share hurt. You being kind does not make someone else kind. But in the end you are not doing it for them, you are doing it for you. Because you have decided that is who you are going to be. And they cannot take that away from you.”
I feel confident that great things will happen if we can create a generation of kids who grow up to be kind, not because of what they will get in return but because that is who they are. So, I want to share this realization from the rooftops and let kindness rain. Then I want the rain to wash away the sting of the bad days.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.