Taking the Long View

“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” (Albert Camus)

Attribution: Donna CameronIt’s time for a light-hearted blog post, I told myself. I’ve been dreadfully serious lately—blogging about politics, corruption, and evil (which may actually be one-in-the-same). Blogging about injustice, inequality, and incivility. How about some sunny, end-of-summer froth? I need it, and so, probably, do you.

Unfortunately, my blogging muse, Bessie, had other ideas. She kept sending me clips and quotes of politicians loudly demonstrating their incivility and idiocy. Or articles about celebrity excesses that mock my belief that we should choose to live simply so others may simply live.

Finally, I conceded to Bessie that my clever concoction of comedy (and alliteration) could be postponed (but not too long, please!). I waited to see what the old girl would send. Bess delivered through a delicious luncheon conversation with my friend, Kris, and a Washington Post article entitled “Caring About Tomorrow,” by Jamil Zaki, Stanford professor of Psychology and director of the University’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory. Continue reading

Breaking News Addiction

“When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” (Buddha)

Are you experiencing media overload?

Recently, I had a thought-provoking conversation with a friend about this subject. She admitted that she compulsively reads the news every morning and is concerned about the effect it’s having on her. She’s noticed that she’s become more pessimistic about people and more discouraged about the world. Sometimes she feels like she’s shutting off from other people and becoming isolated. All this at a time when she recognizes a need for just the opposite.

She’s not alone. I could relate to much of what she said, and I’m guessing many of you can, too.

The news is constantly with us, and most of it is disturbing. It’s a challenge to balance our desire to stay informed with our need for at least occasional peace of mind.

There are a number of elements that play into this dynamic: Continue reading

Does Everybody Deserve Our Kindness?

“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)

Attribution: Donna CameronSince publication of A Year of Living Kindly last fall, I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk with groups about kindness. What an immense privilege! People aren’t shy about sharing their own stories of kindness, and the questions they ask are nearly always wise and perceptive. It’s like that with blogging, too—your comments invite me to see a different perspective, or sometimes they make me think a bit more deeply about my topic. And sometimes you make me laugh when I need it most.

I’ve noticed that often the same question will come up in talks and on the blog at almost the same time. It may just be coincidence, but it may also be triggered by a current event or a high-profile news story.

Recently, one question has surfaced repeatedly. The wording may have been different, but the meaning the same:

  • “Why should I be kind to unkind people?”
  • “Isn’t treating a jerk with kindness just rewarding him for being a jerk?”
  • “Does everybody deserve our kindness?”

Such a provocative question: does everybody deserve our kindness? Continue reading

What Keeps Us from Being Kind?

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” (George Saunders)

I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the last year to talk with groups about kindness. One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Why is it so hard? . . . . Why is something obviously desirable and seemingly easy sometimes so difficult to actually do?”

I generally respond by describing the typical barriers to our kindness, the first of which is fear. And fear comes in many flavors: Fear of having our kindness rejected or misunderstood, fear of doing it wrong, fear of drawing attention to ourselves and causing embarrassment. Beyond fear, we may not know the right thing to do, or we claim not to have time, or we’re often simply oblivious.

Our brains can find any number of reasons for not doing something that may cross our minds as an impulse or notion. Continue reading

Flawed or Flawesome?

“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. Continue reading