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

The Case for Patience … and Impatience

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” (Joyce Meyer)

Attribution: Donna CameronI’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

When Kind Meets Nasty

“Unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.” (Marcel Proust)

Attribution: Donna CameronHave 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

Has America Reached Its “Pull By” Date?

“What advantage has the person who will not listen over the one who cannot hear?” (Joyce Rachelle)

Most of the people I know—including myself—consider themselves to be open-minded, fair, and objective. But how true is that . . . really? I fear that for many of us, those sterling qualities have fallen victim to our times.

A new friend recently sent me a link to this clip of Republican strategist Frank Luntz being interviewed by historian Walter Isaacson on Christiane Amanpour’s news show, Amanpour & Co. My friend said it was a fascinating discussion of our current state of toxic politics.

Republican strategist? I asked myself if I really want to listen to a Republican strategist? Was he likely to say anything that wouldn’t piss me off? Aren’t I already pissed off enough? So much for open-mindedness.

But I respect this new friend’s opinion, so I clicked the link and soon was fascinated by a discussion devoid of shouting and name-calling, and offering plenty to ponder. Continue reading