“Treat others how you would like to be treated.” Throughout our lives, many of us have been told this phrase and encouraged to show kindness to others in exchange for mutual kindness. In my life, this phrase was told to me many times, along with other phrases like “turn the other cheek” and “words will never hurt me.” These phrases seemed like an easy enough rule to follow, especially if they guaranteed me the respect of my peers and others- so I followed them. When a family member or a friend said something mean or hurtful to me, I ignored it and pretended it did not affect me. When people were bullying me or intentionally excluding me in a malicious manner, I still was kind and brought them treats for the class party. In my mind, this was the way to handle situations like these because, eventually, those people would remember the phrases I had learned to live by, and things would change, right? Actually, I was dead wrong, and it would take me years to learn how to unlearn these habits and to stop allowing people to walk all over me.
For many years, though, I lived my life with the intent of being kind and helpful to people no matter how rude or inconsiderate they were being of me or my time. When I was in high school, I joined and became a member of the business club and became the most dedicated member. While the club president (we will call him Jonah) and his best friend (the vice president) slacked off, I took up the reins: organizing donations, putting up posters, creating study groups for team members—and became an essential member of the team. By the end of the year, I was the only team member going to state competitions and winning awards, excelling even though it was only my first year as a member of the club.
The following year, I decided that I wanted to go out on a limb and put in my bid to be president of the club against the popular slacker who had been in charge for three years. After all of my hard work the previous year, I was more than certain that the position would be handed to me, and I would have the freedom to accomplish my vision for the club. Excited to begin, I walked into the first meeting only to find out that in spite of all of my hard work, the teacher had decided to hold an election for President. Even with this process at hand, I was mostly unphased because I knew that during the previous year, I had been able to get to know and become friends with most of the members of the team. Even though I was jilted that I still had to fight for a position I had clearly earned, I was determined not to let it get the best of me and to simply win the election.
Election Day came, and votes were cast. As we waited for the teacher to count the votes and announce the winner at the end, many of the members walked up to me and assured me they had voted for me. While the time passed, we talked about the ideas I would implement for the club and excitedly whispered about how far the club was going to go this year with me as sole president. The teacher finished counting and stood up from her desk, coming to the front of the class. I waited for her to announce the results, but instead, she dismissed the meeting and asked for me and Jonah to stay behind for a discussion.
After everyone else had left, she calmly explained that the election had revealed someone as a winner but to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, she was going to have me be co-president to Jonah because he had “experience.” I was dumbfounded. In the last year, I had done more and accomplished more than he had in three years, yet I was being forced to accept that in spite of all of my hard work and dedication, I was going to have to settle. At that moment, I realized that all I had learned and everything I had adapted had done nothing to get me what I wanted. In spite of my hard work, I had to share a position with someone who had done anything but fulfill that same role the previous year. It was at that moment that I realized how people had taken advantage of me and my hard work throughout my life and, more importantly, how I had let them.
In life, it is true that being able to turn the other cheek, not allowing criticism to deeply affect and treating everyone with kindness will take you far. However, it is also important to remember that your time, your energy and your kindness are valuable and not to let people take advantage of you or undermine it. Never be afraid to demand better for yourself, and never be afraid to not let people take advantage of you.