“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 →
“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.
“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” (Ernest Hemingway)
Teach Tolerance. It’s a mantra of many in the social justice movement, and I know their intentions are laudable and lofty. But I have a problem with the word “tolerance.” It seems to me that if that’s what we’re aiming for, we’re setting the bar pretty low.
The venerable Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as 1: the capacity to endure pain or hardship, and 2: a) sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own, or b) the act of allowing something. (There are further definitions relating to drug or pesticide exposure, but that sort of tolerance is a conversation for another day.)
And, here’s what appears first when I type “tolerance” into the Google search engine: Continue reading →
“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” (Joyce Meyer)
I’ve been thinking about patience a lot lately. Patience is not easy. The world seems to be getting ever more crowded and more of us are expecting instant satisfaction. Blame it on the internet, or the microwave, or our overscheduled lives, but we seem less and less inclined to pause and allow life to unfold at its own pace.
That’s not always bad.
In our day-to-day interactions, patience is a kindness skill sorely needed and one we can cultivate with practice. But, in another realm, a realm where a clock ticks steadily toward catastrophe, patience is a luxury we cannot afford. Here, we must put aside patience and take decisive action.
When Patience Is Not the Answer
As much as I have advocated for patience, I’ve come to see that there are times when it is not the kindest response. How long do we tolerate the behavior of corrupt politicians? How long do we permit cries of “Second Amendment” to muffle the loss of innocent lives or overshadow sanity and safety? How long do we allow climate change deniers a place at any table? Continue reading →
“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)
Have you ever come into contact with someone who is just . . . nasty? Rude, insensitive, unpleasant, maybe even a bully? I suspect we all have.
The first thing to ask when we encounter such people is whether “offensive” is their default setting, or if maybe they are—like Judith Viorst’s Alexander—having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
If it appears that the latter is the case, the kind response might be to offer some empathy. “It looks like you’re having a tough day. Can I help?” Or even just silently give them the benefit of the doubt—she must be struggling with some challenges right now. I know this isn’t who she really is. Sometimes these acknowledgements—offered without responding in the same tone or attitude of the offender—will give them the opportunity to pause and look at their behavior, and sometimes even alter it or apologize for it.
But if you’ve had similar encounters with this person before and know them to be perpetually unpleasant, angry, and aggressive, giving them a pass is less than satisfying. Sometimes it feels like we’re letting mean win. So, what’s the best strategy for those inevitable encounters with thoroughly odious people? Continue reading →