BARRETT: How to kill them with kindness

Tom Barrett

“Kill them with kindness.” My Aunt Gina would repeat these words to me time and time again when I was a young kid. If someone told her she looked ugly, she would smile and tell them that they looked beautiful. If someone went as far as slapping her, she would unabashedly offer her other cheek.

The way she saw it, anyone that tried to make her feel bad about herself was simply one more sad case of misery looking for company. She refused to let herself sink down to their level and instead reflected whatever harsh words or deeds that came her way with her genuine smile.

She understood that she was the maker of her own happiness. If someone – or anything – tried to take that from her, she knew that the only way they would get it would be if she gave it to them. Instead, she stayed in the driver seat of her perspective and refused to let anyone else take the wheel.

Despite her uncanny ability to ward off all things negative, she was not a closed and remote person. She was far from it.

Everywhere she went she was a beacon of positivity, instantly drawing others to her radiance. She was someone who loved. Not anyone or anything in particular, but rather everyone and everything. She loved herself, and she knew that not only could no one strip her of that, but also that she could bring others to the light.

She died at the age of 28. But even though she knew she was terminally ill for the last 10 years of her life, she chose to respond to her weakening body with that same unceasingly positive attitude.

She refused to sulk and pity herself. Instead, she greeted her sickness with a smile and chose to live her remaining days to the fullest. Always looking for a new adventure, she learned how to scuba dive and explored the coasts of Florida, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. She would beg my aunt and uncle to let her record with them even though she could not hit a note to save the world. Even going to work every day became something she treasured.

The room lit up whenever she was in it. Even clients whom she knew only over the phone flew from the Midwest and the West Coast to bid her farewell at her funeral. And even though I was only 7 years old when she passed, I will always remember – even in her last days when her body had finally begun to betray her – her same ever-shining smile.

In our lives, there is much negativity that only wishes to weigh us down, to make us grow weary and to force us into submission. Other people – jaded by life’s cruelties and misfortunes – may wish to lure us into their wallowing. Some may even wish to provoke us into retaliation – into anger, hate and violence – to prove to us and themselves that no one can overcome this negativity. Even our own bodies may fail us, either from sickness or a physical accident.

In the face of such confrontation, we may wish to sulk and pity ourselves, we may feel the temptation to become embittered and numb ourselves from the pain and we may even want to lash out in retaliation.

In the midst of these forces, however, we always have a choice. While sticks, stones and words may be tossed with malicious intent, we can summon the words of my late Aunt Gina and kill them with kindness.

By remembering our power to be the makers of our own happiness, we can reflect these attacks. At the least, we will leave our assaulters confounded by the infirmity of their actions. At best, we can help them liberate themselves from the negativity that has them bound.

And even if our own body is the cause of our malady, we can still approach it with that same loving perspective.

We can choose to appreciate whatever we have left in our lives. By loving ourselves we can set an example of others to let go of whatever is bringing them down.

And, as my Aunt Gina showed the world, if all that’s left is a genuine smile, then so be it. Choose to smile.

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Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]