“True kindness is rooted in a deep sense of abundance, out of which flows a sense that even as I give, it is being given back to me.” (Wayne Muller)
The world offers us two perspectives on abundance.
It’s easier to be kind when we have that sense of abundance that Wayne Muller talks about above. If we are always worrying that there is never enough, or that if I share my bounty with you, there will not be enough for me, it will be hard to extend kindness.
Have you ever felt resentment or envy toward someone who experienced good fortune or great success? Maybe you found yourself rationalizing it (“Well, sure, with his family connections, getting that job was easy”), or minimizing it (“What’s the big deal? So she got a MacArthur Genius Grant—they’re a-dime-a-dozen”). Or maybe you noticed the grinding of your molars as you congratulated someone for their success.
Thoughts like that are focused on scarcity: if she gets a lot, there will be less for me.
Cultural anthropologist Jennifer James often speaks about the concept of the limited or unlimited pie. If we view our world as a limited pie, our slice is smaller if someone else gets a big piece. But if we can see the pie as unlimited—expanding endlessly from the center—then we have no reason to feel threatened or diminished by someone else’s success or prosperity: there’s plenty for everyone and the size of mine isn’t impacted by the size of yours.
Rarely does someone else’s abundance mean a dearth for us. It doesn’t work that way. Success and good fortune—like sunshine—are not rationed. There’s an ample supply for everybody. In fact, the more we all recognize the plenty surrounding us, the more there is for everyone, because—through kindness and our own contentment—we start helping others to experience abundance. And we share what we have because, after all, there’s plenty. And, like a boomerang or an eager puppy, it bounds right back to us.
This doesn’t mean that kind people never experience envy and pettiness. They’re as susceptible as the rest of us, but perhaps more able to acknowledge and move beyond those feelings quickly.
For the rest of us, on those days when we wake up feeling less than, it is easy to lose sight of what really matters. That’s when a sense of abundance needs to be summoned. Maybe we feel less than attractive, or less than smart, or less than capable, or less than secure. Or maybe we are aware that we don’t have the wealth or resources that others do. Focusing on what we don’t have—whether real or imagined—only ignites a downward spiral.
As trite as it may be, it’s the old “glass half-full or half-empty” conundrum. We create our own reality by how we look at the world. If we view it through the lens of “not enough,” that is what we train ourselves to look for and we are never satisfied. If we view it through the lens of abundance, then how easy it is to be satisfied, and to see that there is enough to share.
Without a sense of abundance, we can neither give nor receive. We hold our own possessions too tightly, and we have neither the open eyes nor the open hands to see and receive all that the world is offering us.
A Different View of Abundance…
To believe we have enough, we must first believe we are enough. We are surrounded, though, by messages that tell us we are not. These are messages of a different kind of abundance: the copious consumption and assiduous acquisition that are so prevalent in Western society.
Even if we’re lucky enough to have family and friends who see us as whole and perfect just as we are, the media bombards us with messages that we’re not. Magazines show us the fashions we’re lacking, or the youthful skin that we’ve lost. Television shows us—both through advertising and Hollywood’s relatively narrow view of beauty—that we’re far from adequate: some bits are too small and some are too big, some are too curly and some are too straight, but, good news, there’s a product to fix all our faults. Ads about weight, skin, and hair plague us online, and continually remind us that there’s a wonder drug or serum just waiting to solve our problems.
We are subtly and not so subtly taught to believe in our own inadequacy: we are not enough, something is missing. And the solution is always out there—something that will fix us or make us whole. If we just buy the right stuff, acquire the missing magic ingredient…. If we allow it, it becomes an endless quest for more.
The view of abundance we see from the lens of kindness tells us we have what we need to live a life of joy and meaning and service, and we are fine just as we are. The commoditizing view of abundance whispers to us that we aren’t enough and need to acquire more to be adequate. We hear them both … which voice resonates more deeply with you?
“He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.” (St. Paul)