“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)