What Comes Next? YOLK Welcomes 2016

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you can.” (John Wesley) 

Attribution: Donna CameronOne of the big lessons of kindness I talked about last week was that kindness isn’t something that I can adopt for a single year and then move on. I’ve come to the conclusion that my #1 job is kindness. That’s what I’m here for. I may not be very good at it yet, but I want kindness to be my lifetime pursuit, and one about which I can say on my very last day, “Yes, I lived a kind life.”

So, no, dear husband, rest assured 2016 will not be “a year of living bitchy,” nor—to your great disappointment—will it be “a year of learning to dust and vacuum” (after all these years, it’s time to let that one go, Sweetie).

I want kindness to remain central to my life and I will continue to practice it and follow the path on which it leads me. I want to continue to write about kindness. I am one of those people who, like Joan Didion, write to find out what they are thinking.

So, I plan to keep the blog going, but I will certainly be less obsessive about posting every week at exactly the same time. I have truly enjoyed blogging, and the knowledge I’ve gained and the remarkable people I’ve connected with have exceeded any expectations I had a year ago. I will continue to write when I have something to say or share. I will also continue to compile the quotes and other resources that I’ve been collecting on the Resources page.

Since writing has always been a central passion in my life, I also plan to write about plenty of other things in 2016 and beyond.

A few people have very kindly asked me if I might turn these musings into a book, and that is something I would certainly love to do. I don’t know how to go about it…but I’m eager to learn. At this point I’ve written more than 62,000 words about kindness (can you say verbose?), so I hope there is something to work with here. I’d also like to speak about kindness and hope to make some opportunities to spread the word in an inspiring and enjoyable way.

The beginning of 2016 marks another big change in my life, as—after more than 30 years—I am stepping down from working day-to-day in association and non-profit management and opening myself to what comes next. I’m not calling it retirement—I still plan to consult with non-profits—but there are a boatload of other things I’m eager to try, as well. I may tell you about them here as I discover and explore what’s around the corner and waiting in the wings.

Even though I’m not going anywhere and I plan to continue blogging, I do want to take a moment to thank all of you who have been reading YOLK—whether you started with me way back in January of 2015 or you just came aboard this month. I can’t begin to tell you how I have appreciated your kind and thought-provoking comments and your encouragement. You often inspired me to think more critically or dive deeper into ideas. Some of you are my dear friends, and some have become friends—even though we’ve never actually ”met”—that’s one of many really cool things about blogging and the blogging community. Thank you all for your kindness.

For any of you who may have joined our kindness community later in the year, I invite you to read earlier posts. They are launched from this home page.

A closing thought about kindness for 2015: we always have the choice to interrupt the cycle of unkindness by letting it stop with us, and we have the choice to deliberately extend kindness wherever we can. Sometimes it’s hard, and we won’t always make the right choice. But if we do our best and keep our intention in front of us, we can—little-by-little—change the world. And that’s pretty awesome.

Finally, because I like symmetry, it feels most fitting to end this year of living kindly with the same Neil Gaiman quote I used to open the year. I hope you like it as much as I do, and I hope it will inspire you to make 2016 your year of living exactly the life you most want to live. My blessings and grateful thanks to you all. 

“I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.” (Neil Gaiman)

My Biggest Kindness Lessons

“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” (Max De Pree)

Attribution: Donna CameronIn my last post, I looked at the quieter ahas that I’ve encountered in this year of living kindly. No less important than the loud ones, they have tended to tap me on my shoulder lightly or whisper their secrets in my ear. Today, the lessons are a bit less subtle—they whumped me upside my head—often multiple times—or bellowed to me from the tree-tops. Here are my biggest lessons in kindness:

Pay attention. A huge aha is the role of mindfulness in kindness. All I need to do is pay attention and I see that opportunities to extend kindness are everywhere (as are examples of kindness). So often, we operate on automatic-pilot, oblivious to the people and circumstances around us, and the difference a word, a smile, or an act of kindness could make. I’ve come to see that the simple reminder to “pay attention” may be one of the universal secrets to a good life. And like so many other things related to kindness, it’s simple, but it isn’t easy. If we’re present for our lives—paying attention—we’re going to recognize when our gifts are needed: a smile, a word of kindness, a proffered hand.

Pause. I would put the power of the pause up against the power of the Hoover Dam. It’s that big. Instead of speaking or acting in instant response to a situation, taking the time to pause and think about what I want my response to activate—and why—has been transformative. In the space of that brief pause, I might totally change my reaction, or perhaps decide not to respond at all. That pause has always guided me to a better place.

Let go of judgment. It so easy when we see people behaving inconsiderately to judge them—especially in settings where we are thrown together to navigate crowded spaces, such as congested streets and highways or teeming markets. In such settings, it often seems that strangers are there just to get in our way or slow us down. We judge them for their aberrant driving, for being oblivious obstructions, and sometimes just for taking up too much space on the planet. We do it to strangers and often we do it to friends and loved ones, too—especially when we’re feeling tired or depleted. Instead of attributing a silence or an ill-chosen word to malice or resentment, we can assume good intent. We can just as easily say to ourselves, “I’m sure she didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” Why wouldn’t we want to believe the best rather than the worst? Suspending judgment is hard, but it’s one of the first big steps in behaving kindly.

Kindness has no ending. It just keeps reverberating outward and serving life in ways we may never know. Every once in a while, you hear a story about someone who was at the end of their tether—about to explode or self-destruct—and an unexpected kindness arrived to lessen the pain and show them a more positive alternative. We can never know if even the tiniest kindness we extend might ripple out to eventually change the world. What a great reason to send out all the ripples we can!

Being kind is more important than being right. Another transformative aha. So many of us were raised to be smart—and rewarded for being smart—that we have often tended to value smart over kind, and being right over … well, just about anything. It’s not that we can’t be both kind and smart or kind and right, but on those occasions when we have to choose between them, choosing kind is also our path to peace.

What we think about is what we become. And what we look for is what we are most likely to see. We can spend our time pursuing life’s broken bits and catching others’ mistakes, and the more we do it, the better we’ll get at it. But where’s the satisfaction in always playing “gotcha,” and who will want to play with us? If we invest that energy, instead, in looking for what’s right and what’s good, and recognizing the special qualities of the people we encounter, life will be richer in every way. If we look for goodness and for kindness, we’ll find them.

Kindness requires courage. Fear is probably the biggest reason we don’t extend kindness. We fear rejection, being judged, looking foolish, or becoming vulnerable. We fear venturing into unexplored territory and being seen as weak or clumsy. Sometimes these fears are paralyzing. But the more we tap into and exercise our courage in the face of those fears, the less power they will have over us. Our courage grows the more we use it.

We can always choose kindness. We have control over both our perceptions and our reactions. We can choose the path that leads us to peace. It takes practice, but it’s within our capabilities.

Kindness isn’t a destination; it’s a path. Kindness isn’t something that I can adopt for a single year and then move on. My #1 job is kindness. That’s what I’m here for.

These certainly aren’t all the lessons of kindness. But over this year of trying to live a kind life, these were often consistent and recurring themes. It seems to me that the most important lessons in life are ones that we learn, and relearn, and learn some more. I hope to go on learning these lessons … I still have so much to learn about kindness—enough to last a lifetime.

Or maybe I’m just a slow learner. 

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” (Aesop)

 

Big (But Quiet) Kindness Lessons

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” (Rumi)

ttribution: Donna CameronI have encountered so many lessons during this year of living kindly. So many that I can’t name them all. And even if I try, I couldn’t do it in one blog post. So I thought I’d divide them into two posts and call one “Small Kindness Lessons” and the other “Big Kindness Lessons.” However, the more I thought about it, I see that there are no small kindness lessons, just as there are no small kindnesses.

We never know how far our kindness will reverberate. Will the smile we extended to the bus driver cause him to greet each passenger with a kind word, and will each of those people, in turn, extend a kindness that they otherwise might not have, and will one of those kindnesses—or a further kindness—mend a heart, lift someone from despair, or even save a life?

No, there are no small kindnesses. And likewise, the lessons of kindness may seem small, but they could extend far beyond our imagining.

That being said, as I think about this year of lessons in kindness, I see that some of them were quiet ahas, and others were cacophonous eurekas! Today, I’ll share what for me were some of the quiet ahas, though they are by no means small. Next time, it will be the thunderous eurekas. Where applicable, I’ll provide links to the post where I explored the idea.

Being kind and being nice are not the same thing. They’re not.  link

It takes patience to be kind and kindness to be patient.  link⇒

Curiosity can lead us to kindness. If we look for what’s behind unkindness, we will often reach a place of understanding.  link⇒

Kindness is an evolution, not a sudden transformation. Like most of the best things in life, developing a life of kindness is a gradual process. Kindness is a path that is its own destination.  link⇒

Being able to accept kindness is as important as being able to extend kindness.  link⇒

Kindness begins with me. A life of kindness begins with self-kindness. If I don’t think I’m worthy of my own kindness, how can I be consistently kind to others?  link⇒

Sometimes the kind thing to do is nothing.  link⇒

There’s no such thing as selective kindness. The person who is kind to you but unkind to the waiter is not a kind person.  link⇒

Kindness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.  link⇒

I can take kindness seriously without taking myself too seriously.

Like all things that we want to become good at, kindness takes practice.  link⇒

We teach kindness by modeling it, not by lecturing about it.

The kinder we are, the more kindness we experience.

Kind people are not without occasional bouts of pettiness, envy, anger or impatience, but they are able to rise above their impulses and express kindness. link⇒

If I am unable to see a way to express kindness I need to look more closely or broaden my field of vision.

All of these little ahas comprise a recipe for a kind life. None are terribly difficult, though practice is essential. If we can keep them in our hearts and in our awareness, we can not only enjoy a feast of compassion and connection, we can change the world.

These are just some of the hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seem to work in whispers and small kindnesses.” (Charles de Lint)

What If I Don’t Feel Like Being Kind?

“You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find you’re never sorry you were kind.” (Herbert Prochnow) 

Attribution: Donna CameronKindness isn’t always tidy and straightforward. It certainly isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s awkward, bumbling, or misunderstood. Sometimes all we can do is guess, and hope that our kindness will have the result we intended. We can put it out there—how it is received or perceived is out of our control. 

True kindness might also sometimes be false kindness in the sense that to be truly kind means extending kindness even when we don’t feel it, and, in fact, when what we really want to do is say the snarkiest thing imaginable. Or when we just want to let the moment pass and pretend we didn’t see the opportunity to be kind. This is when choosing kindness really means something.

Just as it’s easy to be happy when the sun is shining and everything’s going our way, it’s easy to be kind when our kindness takes little effort … or when we know it will be appreciated … or when the recipient of our kindness is someone we know and like.

The key to true kindness—like the key to true happiness—is managing to maintain our attitude or keep our resolve when all hell is breaking loose. When the cat throws-up all over a favorite sweater, the car is making a strange and worrisome noise, you’ve been on and off hold with customer support for over an hour, and a neighbor yells at you because all the leaves from your big tree blew into his yard.

When it’s simply a crappy day, is just holding it together the best we can do, or can we move beyond our instant, emotional, and sometime automatic response and consciously choose the hard response, the one that we want to define us: the kind response?

Michael Broome put it well: “Character is when we have the discipline to follow through with the goal after the mood in which the goal was set passes.”

I had a realization about halfway through this year of living kindly that my most important job—even more important than the one that has sustained me for more than 30 years—is to be kind. That’s why I’m here, on the planet. With that awareness, I see that the biggest kindness challenge is to be kind when I may not feel it.

Kindness may be simple, but it sure ain’t easy.

Learning to Pause Is Essential to Kindness

I recently read that when we feel threatened or angry we drop into our “reptilian” brain, which is where our survival responses are. These include attack, aggression, revenge, fear, and territorial behavior, among other responses. Once in that primitive, reptilian state, it takes about 20 minutes to shift back to our thinking and coping frontal lobes. And being kind from that reptilian state may not be possible.

My friend Ann Macfarlane of Jurassic Parliament—who expertly and enjoyably teaches people how to have successful meetings—describes this state as “amygdala hijack,” when our brains respond to perceived threat with anger and rage.

Whether our higher brain is hijacked or taken over by reptilian instincts, we do have the ability to choose. We don’t have to react instinctively or act on the first snarky impulse. If we can just learn to pause, we can choose who we are going to be in the next moment, and then the one after that. And we can always choose kindness.

Also Essential: Maintaining Awareness

If we pay attention, we can probably avoid amygdala hijack or attack of the phantom reptile. And then we can choose kindness, and the wonderful thing is that the experience of our own kindness will usually lift us out of our funk or fury.

Another element of awareness is understanding why we want to be kind, and how we want to respond to unkindness. Am I being kind to this person who was appallingly rude to me because I want to show them that I am better and more highly evolved? … that they are wrong? … that I will not stoop to their level? Or am I being kind to this person because I want to be kind no matter what and because my kindness serves life—which is perfect in its imperfection? More and more, when kindness is hard and I choose it anyway, it’s for the latter reason. Life is sacred and no matter where I am, or however small I am, I can serve it.

Another form of unkindness that we can avoid by paying attention is indulging in the practice of gossip. It can be tempting to dish the dirt—we’ve all done it—talk about the absent colleague, the weird neighbor, the flakey relative. But it never feels good later—in fact, to use a technical term, it feels icky. Instead, the kind response is to interrupt the spiraling cycle of gossip by saying: “Let’s not talk about Genevieve behind her back,” or “She handled that unhappy customer so well last week—I was really impressed by her professionalism, weren’t you?” Or, at the very least, we can say, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation,” and leave the room.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of these sorts of conversations without realizing how we got here. That’s where paying attention comes in. As soon as we start to get that uncomfortable feeling—for some of us it’s in our stomachs, for others in our shoulders or neck, or elsewhere—we need to think about what’s not right here: Is this a conversation that diminishes rather than builds? Am I overlooking an opportunity to be kind? Am I stuffing my real feelings to be part of the group?

As I’m approaching the end of this year of living kindly, I have a growing awareness that my ongoing task is to keep learning how to be kind when kindness isn’t easy: when I don’t feel like it, or when I’m responding to rudeness or unkindness.

On this never-ending path, the true challenge is to appreciate the moments when kindness is hard or the object of our kindness pushes every one of our buttons—for these are the times when we can fully own our commitment to kindness, when we can say, “Choosing kindness wasn’t easy … but I chose it anyway.”

“Kindness is an inner desire that makes us want to do good things even if we do not get anything in return. It is the joy of our life to do them. When we do good things from this inner desire, there is kindness in everything we think, say, want and do.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

A Dozen Reasons to Choose Kindness

“Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.” (Theodore Isaac Rubin)

attribution: Donna CameronThe decision to make kindness a central element in our lives does not automatically imbue us with that important quality. Like so many other things we choose to care about, that’s just the beginning. Practice is required if we want to become proficient. Just as they say you need to practice if you want to play the piano well … or you need to write regularly if you want to be a writer … or you need to practice your swing if you want to shoot par in golf, you also need to strengthen your kindness muscle by using it regularly. The result—eventually—will be that kindness comes naturally and even sometimes effortlessly. That’s the sweet spot.

But, of course, if we’re going to practice something, there needs to be a good reason. If it’s writing, maybe you want to be published, or you want to be able to express yourself through stories that will entertain or inspire. If it’s piano, maybe you want to connect with the music, be part of a jazz combo, or entertain friends. If it’s golf, you’re simply a masochist.

With regard to kindness, it should be enough just to know it’s the right thing to do, but there are also some really good reasons to choose kindness and to practice it until it becomes ingrained in our reflexes. Here are a few:

  1. Kindness is good for our health. There have been several studies about the health benefits of kindness. They show that people who are routinely kind get relief from chronic pain, stress, and insomnia, and they also have increases in happiness, optimism, and self-worth. More specifically:
  2. Kindness has a positive effect on the body’s immune system, as well as on the production of serotonin in the brain.  Serotonin is a chemical created by the human body that has a calming, anti-anxiety effect.
  3. Kindness is good for your heart: Acts of kindness often generate an emotional warmth, which produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and body, which, in turn, releases nitric oxide in blood vessels causing them to dilate and lower one’s blood pressure, acting as a cardio-protective agent. Oxytocin also reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardio-vascular system, thus reducing heart disease.
  4. Kindness slows aging: That same reduction of free radicals and inflammation slows aging in the human body. Compassion has similarly been linked to activity in the vagus nerve, which also regulates heart rate and controls inflammation levels in the body.
  5. Kindness makes us happier: Kindness elevates the levels of dopamine in the brain, giving us a “natural high.” It has been shown to substantially increase happiness and reduce depression.
  6. Kindness improves relationships: Connecting with one another is actually a genetic predisposition, according to researcher David Hamilton, PhD: “Our evolutional ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so ‘kindness genes’ were etched into the human genome.” As a result, kindness helps us build new relationships and enhance existing ones.
  7. Kindness is contagious: Just as colds and flu are contagious in a bad way, so is kindness in a good way. Kindness begets more kindness. “When we’re kind,” Dr. Hamilton says, “we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends—to three degrees of separation.” Whether one extends kindness, receives kindness, or merely witnesses kindness, the result is the same: it acts as a catalyst for more kindness.
  8. Kindness alleviates social anxiety: Recent research showed that engaging in acts of kindness reduced levels of social anxiety and social avoidance. Individuals who performed acts of kindness reported lower levels of discomfort and anxiety about social interaction, and were more able to participate in group activities.
  9. Kindness is a good reason to get ample rest and sleep: It’s been shown that sleep helps us be kinder. So getting your zzzz’s is a way of extending kindness toward yourself and the planet. You don’t need an excuse for that afternoon siesta! In addition, extending kindness when we’re tired can be as replenishing as a cat-nap, or a jolt of java.
  10. Kindness has been linked to greater life satisfaction: Those who regularly extend generosity and perform acts of kindness report higher degrees of satisfaction with their lives.
  11. Kindness make the workplace more productive and enjoyable: – A kind work environment helps employees feel more engaged; it improves morale, builds loyalty and engagement, reduces absences, and increases profits. Forget all those old-school books on winning through intimidation and fear; kindness is a better business model.
  12. Kindness serves life: Kindness guides us to look for the positive rather than the negative, to seek the best in the people we encounter, and to embrace abundance: we have enough and we are enough. When we do these things, we offer our best selves to life, and help manifest the world as we want it to be.

We don’t really need reasons to extend kindness—kindness is simply the best expression of who and what we are. But in the face of myriad deadlines and obligations it’s easy to look for shortcuts and overlook opportunities to extend kindness, so it never hurts to remind ourselves that there are really good reasons to be kind.

And to practice kindness daily….

“Our greatest gift is to allow ourselves to feel alive in this sea, moving with the tides of lovingkindness as they move into us, through us, out of us into others, only to return again and again.” (Wayne Muller)

Kind Actions That Don‘t Take Time and Won’t Cost a Dime

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” (Martha Graham)

038A large element of kindness is giving—perhaps money, perhaps time. And being able to give without thoughts of getting in return is certainly essential to a kind life. However, there may be times when neither time nor money are available to us. Does that mean we cannot still be generous … or kind?

Au contraire! We can always be kind. There are countless ways to be kind that don’t require investments of time or money. They are not without some effort, though. Here are a few that come to mind. Some are self-explanatory, such as:

  • We can make eye-contact, smile, and say “good morning.”
  • We can say “thank you” or “I’m sorry.”
  • We can hold a door or offer help in carrying a heavy load.
  • We can let the car merge in front of us.
  • We can say something nice about an absent friend when others are gossiping about her.
  • We can load the dishwasher even if they aren’t our dirty dishes.
  • We can acknowledge our own imperfections and overlook the foibles of others.

Other little-time-no-cost expressions of kindness invite us to delve deeper into their meaning:

  • If we can give nothing else, we can always give the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assume the worst, let the stories we make up about people or things we don’t know be positive and affirming. We can assume one another’s good intent—and life will be so much richer if we do.
  • We can let go of anger or resentment. We can forgive. Carrying around anger and resentment toward others, or regrets and recriminations toward ourselves serves no one. Kindness happens when we learn from mistakes, slights, and injuries, forgive and open up to a new story.
  • We can listen for the music rather than the missed note. There are people who spend their time looking for the typo, catching others’ errors, and playing “gotcha” with life. While sometimes that’s our day job if we’re an editor, diagnostician, accountant, building inspector, or the like, it needn’t be our personal mission. The rest of the time, we can practice looking for what’s right and letting go of the rest. Learning to let go is one of the great lessons of kindness. One of the best things we can learn is when something needs to be said, and when it doesn’t.
  • Kind words are powerful, and always welcome. We can compliment someone on the great service they provided, or their perspicacity, a well-written report, or how their smile brightens a room. It’s rare that we can’t find something kind to say.
  • We can pay attention and express appreciation for all that we notice. Paying attention to our lives is one of the secrets to a consistently kind life. If we are unaware of what’s going on around us, it’s so easy to miss opportunities to be kind, or miss the kindnesses extended to us by others. Opportunities to express kindness are all around us, but they’re also easy to overlook if we aren’t paying attention.

Of course, there are still many kindnesses that ask us to open not just our hearts, but also our wallets, and ask us to commit our time as well as our intentions. It’s rarely an either/or. When our hearts are open we will do what we can, recognizing that we offer the best of who we are when we choose kindness.

 “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” (John Wooden)