Transitioning from Kindness to Tenderness: Embracing a Cultural Shift

Leaving Italy for California in my thirties exposed me to the nuances of my Italian identity. While Italians take their cultural traits for granted, in the U.S., these traits often stand out due to stereotypes perpetuated by media and misconceptions about Italian culture. As I approach my 10th year in California, I’ve become increasingly aware of how my Italian upbringing influences my interactions with others.

One distinct aspect of Italian culture is our emotional openness. In Italy, expressing emotions openly is the norm, but it presented challenges for me. Simple errands could lead to unpredictable encounters, requiring me to navigate others’ moods skillfully to avoid negative interactions. This constant vigilance took a toll on my mental well-being, leading me to prioritize kindness in all my interactions, regardless of my own emotions.

Moving to California introduced me to a culture of pervasive friendliness and kindness, which initially felt refreshing but also left me feeling lonely at times. Reflecting on the meaning and limitations of kindness, I realized that while it fosters positive interactions, it can also create emotional distance.

Kindness operates on a set of behaviors, allowing individuals to navigate social interactions without emotional investment. In contrast, tenderness requires emotional presence and empathy, fostering genuine connections with others. Unlike kindness, which remains consistent across situations, tenderness is adaptive and responds to the needs of the moment.

Transitioning from kindness to tenderness has been a journey of understanding and adapting to cultural differences. Embracing tenderness in my interactions has enriched my personal and professional life, fostering deeper connections and empathy. It’s a skill that requires wisdom and sensitivity, but the rewards are profound, fostering healing and meaningful human connections.

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