Paying It Forward

John Green

Blog Challenge Day 6: Your Most Recent Random Act of Kindness

It’s sad when someone asks you this question and you can’t quite remember an intentional thing that you did for the sake of being kind. I’m telling myself it’s because I try to be thoughtful so much of the time that the smallest things are really done without intention at all anymore, like holding the door open for another person, complimenting a stranger or smiling at a passerby because those small things are proven to brighten the days of others. I try to do those things all the time…but now I’m wondering how kind I actually am. Regardless, I do have an answer to this challenge, it just isn’t as recent as, say, this morning.

The restaurant where I work is in an upper-middle class/affluent part of town, it’s a mid–priced family style kind of place and the tips are generally 18-20% (which is what you should be tipping your server these days, by the way). My employer, indisputably, likes to employ a particular type of person, specifically responsible high school or college aged students who could be (and occasionally are) the children of our regular patrons. This means that most of my coworkers and I come from a similar demographic: hardworking parents who expect us to get good grades, go to college, start a family (in that order). Of my coworkers, there is one anomaly to this generality.  For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call her N.

As soon as N came on two years ago, she was (and still is) a bit of a shock and adjustment for most of the staff. From the beginning, she put us all off by giving the impression that she was better than a lot of us because we “had supportive and encouraging parents who always set good examples” (not necessarily true for some of my coworkers) and she had to work harder than many of us because she wasn’t handed everything she needed in life. In the same vain, it was clear that she felt insecure because so many of us were in college and had done well in school and she was perfectly open about the fact that she had slacked off. I know firsthand that N is not unintelligent, but I’ve come to understand that she’s had influential people in her life lead her to believe that she is. I struggled for months with how to love this girl as my neighbor,  and in fact I still do, when she clearly looks down on me for the fact that I come from a more stable background than she does. I’ve been trying to be better at that in the last few months, but watching someone refuse to be proactive about their life, refuse to realize their potential – it’s challenging for me. My passion for international development has lent me an awareness that being impoverished in America is not nearly as devastating as it is in the developing world. If a healthy, literate American is living below the poverty line, he or she has so many more opportunities available to them to better their circumstances than those living in poverty in sub-saharan Africa. So, for me, it’s frustrating to see an American refuse to take an advantage of those opportunities.

Since joining the staff, N has had a child with her boyfriend. N is the only one who actively contributes to the household income and, not surprisingly, money tends to run tight for them. Over the last few months, business has steadily declined at our restaurant and recently, N has confessed her stress about utilities and rent and where is she going to get the money for it all?

So all this buildup and here’s my random act of kindness: when it was my turn to take a table of regulars who always tip more than 20% came in the other night, I turned to N and made her take the table.  It’s a small thing, but I know it boosted her take-home money by thirty percent that night and short of directly putting money in her hands for herself and her baby (which I’m not really opposed to), it was the best I could do.

Does this count as a random act of kindness? What about you? What was your random act of kindness this week?

Some People Think A Lady Should Be Quiet

Delicate, Vast, Brilliant, Motto,

 

The summer that I turned eleven, I went through this huge feminist phase. I had these two guy friends who heard an earful from me over the course of those three months about how boys have it so easy, boys are allowed to be loud and gross and dirty but girls? No, Little Girls are supposed to wear pristine dresses with perfect bows in their hair. Little Girls are supposed to become Young Women who perfectly balance that fine line between sexy and slutty and never burp in public. Little Girls grow into Fine Ladies who graduate college and accept $0.77 to every dollar earned by a man, before quitting to pop out babies and run a clean, organized household.

I’m not ashamed of how much time I spent thinking about the outrageous expectations for girls and women but, strangely enough, my mother was.

At some point that August, my mother made sure to have the conversation with me that I needed to “tone it down” on the impassioned feminists speeches because I was starting at a middle school where nobody knew me and if I carried on ranting the way that I was, then people (boys) were going to get the idea that I was a lesbian and nobody (boys) would want to date me.

I tell myself that if my mother had been a woman who had given up her dreams to settle down and raise a family then I wouldn’t have been so quick to acquiesce. But the thing was, my mother was a woman who went to college and pursued her goals and didn’t marry my dad until her late twenties and only stopped working because my older sister had really severe asthma that required near-constant attention. By the time I was eleven, my mom was a single parent, raising two girls and working as a middle school music teacher and I decided that if anyone knew what I was up against at my new school, it would be her. So I followed her advice, and I settled down and I bottled up my angry rants and you know what?

Boys still didn’t want to date me.

It took getting to college and having spirited debates with professors and classmates to realize that I could have been doing so all along. I had snuffed my own passion, held my tongue about those subjects that would make me seem less than ladylike and in doing so, I succumbed to the very pressure that I was so angry about.

Some people think that a lady should be quiet.

I spent a near decade believing that society would think that I was a man-hating lesbian just because I supported feminist causes like a woman’s right to reproductive health. To be fair, maybe Society would have thought that about me. Regardless, my own sense of feminism is not rooted in targeted hatred for men.

My sense of feminism springs from a severe dissatisfaction in the way that society views a woman’s role, an intolerance for the phrase “boys will be boys” and the fact that slut-shaming is something I was programmed for the minute kids (girls) at my school started having sex.

I don’t hate men in general, and I don’t blame them in general either. It’s society, our very culture that perpetuates oppression. It’s slut shaming, and victim blaming. It’s brushing aside female politicians as either a moron or a bitch. It’s my mother telling me to be delicate.

It took me nearly ten years, but I understand now. If I want to be respected in this world, I don’t have to be soft spoken and gentle. I can be charismatic and warm. I can be clever and outspoken. I can wear lipstick and a suit. Whatever I am, I will be vast and I will be brilliant.