“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)
Whose dumb idea was it for me to do a quarterly “report card” on my progress during this year of living kindly?
That must have been me.
A few people have pointed out—very kindly—that such an instrument may not be the best example of self-kindness, and that my observations about judgment being a barrier to kindness extend to judgment of myself, as well. Yeah, but where were they when I was coming up with this cockamamie idea?
Hence, in keeping with my commitment, and in an attempt to be reasonably kind to myself, I will hasten through the grading portion and then engage with my inner guidance counselor to start thinking about what I’m going to do when I “graduate.”
First the Grades…
Stretching for an analogy from my husband’s field of physics, there’s the theoretical and the applied. While not mutually exclusive, as I understand it (and I confess that I don’t understand it, though I have nodded sagely for decades as Bill explained things like quantum mechanics and string theory), theoretical physics focuses more on exploring concepts, assessing and predicting based on both discovery and conjecture. Applied physics is more about the real-world application of the science—its practical use to build, create, or prove something. I did not run this explanation by Bill before posting it—which would have been the intelligent thing to do—precisely because he would have clearly and carefully explained the distinctions between theoretical and applied physics, I would have nodded knowingly, and then would have proceeded to mangle it just as badly. I skipped the middle-man to achieve the same result. But I digress….
With kindness, too, there is the theoretical and the applied. Both are essential. Theoretical kindness is exploration of the ideas and concepts, linking of related principles (e.g., kindness and curiosity, kindness and vulnerability, kindness and abundance). Theoretical kindness may be identifying connections that hadn’t been evident before. I’ll give myself a B+ here, maybe even an A-. This favors my somewhat introspective and introverted nature.
Applied kindness is putting my thinking into action, vigorously engaging in kind deeds and going out of my way to extend kindness at every opportunity. While I have made some good efforts, I don’t think they’ve been sufficient. I’ll give myself a C+ here, B- if I’m being generous. While I can honestly say I have not been unkind (that I am aware of), I can also honestly say that I have not been kind enough.
What Happens Next?
In high-school, we met with our counselors about twice a year, more than that if we were struggling with classes or had behavior issues (which I wasn’t and hadn’t). My meetings with my counselor were pretty innocuous; she praised my grades, we talked about what classes I liked best and what electives I was choosing for the following year. In my junior year, she started asking me about college—where did I want to go, what did I want to study? She showed enormous restraint in not trying to talk me out of studying Russian literature and not asking me what (on earth!) I thought I was going to do with it.
I have never for a moment regretted my chosen field of study, or the later decision to add philosophy as a dual major … clearly not thinking about the already saturated ranks of college graduates in the job market who were conversant in both Tolstoy and Teleology.
The parallels between Russian literature and kindness may seem evident only to me, but, dear counselor, I assure you that they are there and I can trace the slightly circuitous steps from my first introduction to Dostoevsky at age 16 to the first blog I posted on kindness. You may have to trust me on this.
So, you ask, if this is where Russian lit led you, where is kindness going to lead you, and what are your intentions once this year of living kindly has concluded?
Good question, inner counselor. While I have no idea whether the blog will continue after December 31 (ideas and suggestions most gratefully welcomed), I know my commitment to kindness will continue. Kindness is not a destination, but a path. I may occasionally stray or be distracted by bright and shiny diversions, but the path is always there and kindness is always a choice. The Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” As someone who grew up with no religious training or affiliation, this is a religion I can embrace.
While kindness will surely—as it already has—lead to new people and places, and hopefully some new opportunities to serve, it will also be the lens through which I view the world and the filter through which I make choices.
Given my less than satisfactory grade in Applied Kindness, in the remaining three months of this year of living kindly—and beyond—I want to engage more actively in kindness, and extend myself more often and more directly.
I don’t, however, want to use this blog as a forum to say, “See what I did,” so YOLK may continue to be an exploration of ideas, observations, and perplexing digressions.
When I sat down to write this week’s post, knowing only that it was to be my quarterly report card, I had no idea where it would go. Eight hundred words later, I have strayed into theoretical and applied physics and revisited my passion for Russian literature. To anyone who has persevered to the end of this rambling post, I can only say: I am so sorry … and thank you.
“Learning to love is hard and we pay dearly for it. It takes hard work and a long apprenticeship, for it is not just for a moment that we must learn to love, but forever.” (Fyoder Dostoevsky)
I hope and pray that YOLK will continue, as it inspires me with each article.
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Thank you so much, Tim, for that incredibly kind comment! And thank you for reading and for your own thought-provoking posts. So glad we’ve connected!
I, for one, would love to hear more about your journey from Dostoevsky to blogging, apart from that one pertinent quotation. I like this ‘rambling’ blog as much as any of your blogs, which are are always thought-provoking and eloquent. I hope you decide to continue with them or, if not, that you find something equally rewarding for yourself and others.
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Thank you for your kind and generous comment, Carol. Perhaps I will somehow go full-circle and end up where I started: in complete rapture reading Dostoevsky. Then, I will watch Bill’s eyes glaze over as I try to share my entrancing subject … heaven help us all!
Sometimes rambling posts can be the best, and this one was a wonderful reminder. Since you are an expert in the field: I just read Anna Karenina, what would you recommend as a good Russian novel to read next? Thank you!
Oh, my! What a wonderful question. How did you like “Anna Karenina”? Such a fabulous book. “War and Peace” is also wonderful, but at about 1200 pages, it’s a lengthy commitment! Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” is probably my favorite. It’s tremendous and incredibly rich and layered. I also love his “Crime and Punishment” and “The Idiot.” While the title is off-putting for many, I love Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” (it’s not as depressing as it sounds and portrays the Stalinist period quite realistically). Solzhenitsyn’s novella, ”One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” is almost single-handedly responsible for toppling the Stalin-built reign of terror and oppression. If you like surrealism, one of the strangest, funniest, and most enjoyable books I’ve read (3 times!) is Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita.” Chekhov short stories are perfection. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and asking a question that actually made me tingle! I hope you’re not sorry you asked. Let me know what you read next!
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Definitely not sorry I asked! Thanks for the numerous recommendations, I’ll see what the library has!
Catching up on your blog, finally–it’s like the reward for saving room for dessert!
You are such a gifted storyteller. Your words are not flowery, but they resonate, evoke, and entertain. You are so real!
Do you think there is a difference between calling it a ‘report card,’ versus a ‘progress report?’ Somehow the latter feels a lot more forgiving, and almost like its own little mindfulness exercise. And it feels less judgy.
I will savor your writing the rest of this year, and I look forward to seeing what awaits you beyond then. Hoping you will allow us to come along a little ways further! 😊
Thank you, Catherine, for your extremely kind words! You’re absolutely right that “progress report” would have been a kinder and gentler term than “report card.” Although, I confess I used to like report cards–how geeky is that! I really appreciate your encouragement to continue in some fashion after this year concludes. I look forward to finding what comes next, too. Thanks so much for reading–following your blog, I’m aware of how busy you are!