Let’s take a two minute pause to stop and consider kindness.
If you Google “kindness” , you’ll get responses like
“the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”
If you Google “friendly“, you’ll get all sorts of synonyms like communicative, approachable, easygoing, unreserved, benevolent. While those are words we can understand in relation to other people, they are not always things we think to extend to ourselves. Are we being a friend to ourselves before we try to be a friend to someone else? Are we showing kindness to ourselves in the same way we know other’s hope to receive?
I remember being told to be kind as a kid, primarily as it related to how I treated any of my five siblings. I was thinking about this again this week while watching how little kindness there seems to be in the news. Between political battles of ideology, fighting for land, arguing over resources and fighting over egos, we have forgotten how to be kind. “Be kind for everyone you meet is fight a hard battle,” is a quote attributed to Plato. Regardless who said it, its message rings true now more then ever. What would it take for us to be more intentionally kind? And, how would our world change we did?
To me, the word Namaste says it all – “may the divine in me acknowledge the divine in you.” May whatever is great in me focus on seeing the greatness in you – even if I don’t know you. And if I did, I would be kinder. If I did, I would be more generous, more loving and more forgiving. I would see the greatness in you, trying to express your inner divinity. “We must find out for ourself that inside us is a god or goddess in embryo that wants to be born so we can express our divinity,” says Deepak Chopra in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
Here is an exercise I regularly use for myself and as a challenge I share with my audiences. The next time you are on the highway and someone cuts you off, or you are in line and someone steps ahead of you, how will you make a point of seeing their greatness and their divinity instead of feeling offended? How will you see them as related to you, part of you and part of a greater plan? It isn’t easy because we have been trained to focus on ourselves more than on others. We feel violated, slighted or insulted. But it doesn’t have to be this way – our reaction to this is our choice. As we can choose to be unkind, we could also choose to be kind.
Changing a habit takes intention. To change a habit of focusing first on us takes the intention of wanting it to be different and committing to make the change. The starting point is awareness. We have to be able to see when we are kind and not kind. We have to be present enough to see ourselves in action – to notice our triggers and be aware of our responses. Only then will we be able to stop the “go-to” reaction of selfishness and retaliation, and instead see that we have a choice. That choice could include kindness. In the example of the car cutting you off on the highway, it could mean not blaring the horn and passing a gesture, but instead slowing down, letting the other car in and be entirely unaffected by the event. This is a choice.
The most amazing thing about being kind, is the greatest benefit is not for the other person; it is actually for you. The more unkind we are, the more damage we inflict on ourselves. I was coaching a client this week who is getting ready to leave an employer for some unfair and unprofessional things the employer did. This employee has the ability to “stick it” to his employer; be upset, carry a grudge and bad-mouth his employer. Or, he can realize that in a win-win termination solution, the employee can choose to not be at the effect of the situation, but actually choose to show up kinder, more aware and more committed to greatness. He can choose a mutually beneficial response that treats both sides kindly and professionally. He took the higher ground. His mood, health and spirit were left intact from the event. Kindness, it does a body good.
In what ways can you be more intentionally kind today, this week and this month? Feel the effects of it. See the effects of it. Though kindness does a body good, it also can do a planet good. Choose kindness.
One afternoon, a tired-looking dog wandered into my yard and followed me through the door into the house. He went down the hall, laid down on the couch and slept there for an hour.
Since my dogs didn’t seem to mind his presence, and he seemed like a good dog, I was okay with him being there, so I let him nap. An hour later he went to the door motioned for me to let him out and off he went.
The next day, much to my surprise, he was back. He resumed his position on the couch and slept for another hour.
This continued for several weeks. Finally, curious, I pinned a note to his collar, and on that note I wrote, “Every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap. I don’t mind, but I want to make sure it’s okay with you.”
The next day he arrived with a different note pinned to his collar. “He lives in a home with three children in it. He’s trying to catch up on his sleep. May I come with him tomorrow?”
While lighthearted, this points toward the mood of compassion. Compassion can be described as letting ourselves be touched by the vulnerability and suffering that is within ourselves and all beings. The full flowering of compassion also includes action: Not only do we attune to the presence of suffering, we respond to it.
There is a wonderful expression that says: “Be kind. Everyone you know is struggling hard.”
It doesn’t matter what age we are, if we’re in these bodies and on planet Earth, it’s not easy. That doesn’t mean that we’re always slaving away or that life is bad, it just means life can be really challenging at times.
Because we are conditioned to pull away from suffering, awakening a compassionate heart requires a sincere intention and a willingness to practice. It can be simple. As you move through your day and encounter different people, slow down enough to ask yourself a question: “What is life like for this person? What does this person most need?” If you deepen your attention, you’ll find that everyone you know is living with vulnerability. Everyone is living with fear, with loss, with uncertainty. Everyone, on some level, needs to feel safe, loved, and seen – just like the dog who just needed a place to rest.