The other day, while engrossed in work, I ate an entire bag of brand name Peanut Butter Cups. Yep, it’s true. The photo doesn’t even show all the evidence. Is it any wonder I had an upset stomach and jangled nerves? I was on sugar overload.
I’ve been wanting to stop eating sugar, chocolate, and dairy for health reasons, but also for humane reasons (human slavery, animal welfare, environmental degradation). So why would I choose to eat something that goes against my values and makes me physically ill? The truth is, I’m often not kind to myself. In this case, I chose to ignore my values and trash my health.
I’m kind to my family (usually) and friends, clients, and my animal companions. I don’t vacuum up the spiders in my bathroom; I foster cats for a local shelter; and I carefully steward our land. But I am often downright unkind to myself. Ironic, isn’t it?
The candy caper got me thinking about the other ways I’m hard on myself:
- Mean self-talk: “That was stupid, why did you do that, what’s wrong with you, why can’t you get things done? Also, no wonder you’re getting fat, with all the sugar you’re eating; you’re such a procrastinator, you don’t make enough money, and by the way, your kitchen floor is so dirty you could grow vegetables on it!” You get the picture.
- Obsessively looking at news websites to check in on events — nearly all of which, while tragic, have no bearing on my life and distress me.
- Not honoring commitments I make to myself: “forgetting” to do my physical therapy exercises; telling myself that I only have to work for a certain amount of time, but continuing to work past the stated time; proclaiming that I need some leisure activities to fill my “well” but not scheduling time for them in my calendar.
- Going overboard with my curiosity and interests: ordering more seeds than I can reasonably plant; checking out more library books than I can reasonably read — ditto for subscribing to magazines. They all sit there in a pile, silently reproaching me for not getting to them.
- Majoring in minor things: Sure, the toilet needs to be cleaned, food needs to appear in the fridge, and clothes maybe should live in drawers instead of laundry baskets. But using those daily chores as an excuse to not attend to my life’s work and dreams is such a disservice to myself.
What if I flipped the perspective? What if, instead of seeing this as a list of personal failings, I looked at it as unkindnesses I inflict upon myself? I don’t know where to go with “personal failings.” Unkindness, though, I’ve got that covered: I can use the four elements of humane education.
1. getting/sharing accurate information;
2. fostering curiosity, creativity and critical thinking;
3. acting with reverence, respect, and responsibility;
4. finding positive choices.
Turned inward, these principles are a framework for making changes that are in our best interests. We become better humane educators to boot.
Our behaviors can be responses to childhood programming, teachers, institutions, societal pressure, or culture. It’s useful to explore why we do what we do, whether on our own or with the help of a professional; but please, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for beating ourselves up!
Being kind to ourselves doesn’t mean that we should go around falsely building ourselves up; that’s going to fall flat. Being gently honest—not brutally honest—about why we didn’t quite hit our mark is also a kindness and makes it more likely we’ll get there the next time. I’ve tried berating myself; it doesn’t work.
Some of my behaviors are complicated, with many tentacles. So I’m starting with the easier things, which means creating some limits. I’m returning the unread library books, not renewing most of my magazine subscriptions, storing some seeds for next year, and blocking those addictive news websites on my computer. (This means you, CNN.com!)
Oh, and I’m avoiding the candy aisle at the store. As Lucille Ball said, “You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
I have a lot I want to do, so goodbye Peanut Butter Cups; you’re no good for me anymore.