“We’re all just walking each other home.” (Ram Dass)
Some people are effortlessly kind. I’m not one of them. I’d like to be able to claim that after studying and writing about kindness for going on five years I am now a paragon of compassion, consideration, and benevolence. Eh, not so much. I still get cranky (though it’s no longer my default setting), I can still make judgments, and I still succumb to obliviousness. I’m remain fully and imperfectly human.
Those rare people for whom kindness comes naturally and instinctively probably don’t think about it a lot. Kindness, for them, is as water to a fish. For the rest of us, kindness ebbs and flow. There are times when it comes effortlessly, and times when mustering kindness is harder than summoning a genie. Instead—often to our own chagrin—we’re snarky, indifferent, oblivious, and worse.
If you’re like me, you can even feel it happening. Tension and impatience grab the reins, my jaw tightens, and judgment rears its ugly head. It helps to notice what’s going on when our lesser angels emerge. It’ll be different for each of us, but common triggers are fatigue, hunger, feeling vulnerable or threatened, feeling incompetent or stupid, and—increasingly—feeling indignant, angry, and helpless to effect change in a world gone awry. Recognizing our triggers makes it easier to avoid them or navigate through them.
Sometimes it troubles me that I still fall short on kindness. But then I think about the things that matter in my life—my husband, my friends, writing, living with values and integrity, treading lightly on the earth . . . to name just a few. Each of these also requires effort. Occasionally, I flub or fumble, or miss the mark entirely, yet I value these things even more because they are hard.
And for those times when I fail at kindness, I try to forgive myself when I don’t make the grade, and keep trying.
Many of us were raised in cultures where admitting—or even having—imperfections was discouraged. We were taught to strive for perfection, to always appear strong, and deflect any appearance of failure or frailty. What bunk! I long ago abandoned any quest for perfection—because it’s neither possible nor desirable. It’s our foibles, struggles, and imperfections that make us interesting and authentic. That’s where we connect with one another. That’s where we finally come to understand that the reason we’re here is to share in the adventure—to help carry the heavy stuff, decipher the instruction manual, and to help one another up when we fall.
It might really be that simple.
“Helping others, that’s the main thing. The only way for us to help ourselves is to help others and to listen to each other’s stories.” (Elie Wiesel)