All my life, I’ve been taught to be kind. To live and let live, to always start with ‘please’ and finish with ‘thank you’, and to never be rude or disrespectful. It’s one of my main beliefs, to be irrevocably good to people.

I was okay with that, for the longest time, before I realized that it didn’t necessary mean that people would be good to me. I live in a country where distrust is as common as hair loss advertisements, which trust me- is a lot. I know now, not to smile openly at strangers, to walk confident and aloof down the streets amongst the catcalls, to be unafraid of saying ‘No.’

I didn’t know that back then.

Being soft and kind where I’m from, instantly equates to being weak and vulnerable. The men on the streets have the audacity to run after you, taunting and jeering, just because you accidentally glance in their direction. When you offer one person shelter under your umbrella from the pouring rain, other strangers feel misplaced entitlement to the same treatment, and demand so with force uncalled for. Agreeing to proofread someone’s assignment in school snowballs into doing their work for them. When you refuse, all you get is a ‘Hey, come on. You’re nice, aren’t you?’

As you might’ve guessed, I’m not speaking in metaphors.

Sometimes- a lot of times, being good and kind means being unfairly targeted and exploited, and bullied. It means frustration of the worst kind; I find myself in that horrible position where I don’t know how to say I can’t do something without straying from being true to myself and what I believe in.

I still believe that to be kind is to be powerful, but my experiences have taught me that while kindness can’t kill you, it sure can knock you off your feet and then hit you again when you’re down.

However, I haven’t shied away from caring for others, quite the opposite. I am still as good as I would expect another to be.

I used to be kind because I believed the world was kind. Now I am kind because the real world isn’t.

Rupi Kaur (my queen) succinctly penned,

it takes grace

to remain kind

in cruel situations

and I think that perfectly sums up my feelings on the matter.

-Shivani Reddy M