Fear and Trembling In 2020

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” (Gandhi)

There are three dimensions of fear, as it relates to kindness.

Extending Kindness

First, fear inhibits us from extending kindness. We fear rejection, we fear being misunderstood, or appearing clumsy, embarrassing or calling attention to ourselves. Simply put, we fear the vulnerability of not knowing how our kindness will play out. It feels safer to do nothing.

A good question to ask if we’re hesitating to extend a kindness is, “Could my kindness here make a positive difference?” Then focus your attention on doing good.

Receiving Kindness

Sometimes, fear gets in the way of our receiving kindness. We may fear being perceived as weak or needy. Perhaps we want to maintain a distance between ourselves and the giver and fear strings may be attached to the proffered kindness. Maybe we fear we don’t deserve the kindness. Receiving can be just as awkward and clumsy as giving. Accepting the kindness of others with grace and appreciation is itself an act of kindness. And it should be a pretty easy one. But it takes practice. Whether you are offered a material gift, assistance, or a compliment, receive it graciously—and gratefully—and savor the kindness.

Perhaps the question to ask is, “What’s the most gracious response here?” We’re never wrong if we offer the best of who we are.

Behaving Unkindly

Fear is at the heart of so many unkind actions. When we feel stupid or inept, or threatened by a new and intimidating experience, we often lash out. When our security or beliefs are tested, or when circumstances challenge us to change our way of thinking, we go on the offensive. We say something rude, we belittle, we behave inconsiderately. Continue reading

Don’t Settle for Nice

“Mean is easy. Mean is lazy. Mean is self-satisfied and slothful. You know what takes effort? Being kind. Being patient. Being respectful.” (Jake Tapper)

[In the six years I’ve been blogging about kindness I’ve sometimes strayed to other topics, but kindness remains my North Star. Usually, I feel confident that kindness will surmount the evil, greed, intolerance, and disregard that threatens the world, but sometimes I am stunned and baffled by the meanness of many of my fellow humans. As we approach the most important election America has ever faced, amidst a global pandemic, I am periodically going to revisit and reexamine some of my earliest thoughts about kindness and explore them in context of today’s circumstances.]

Since the publication of A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities to talk about kindness—at bookstores, libraries, service organizations, conferences, radio shows, and podcasts. The question I am asked most often is, “What’s the difference between kind and nice? Aren’t they the same thing?”

To some, the difference may be wholly semantic, but I believe there is a vast difference, and the times we are currently living in require that we choose kindness.

It’s fairly easy to be nice. Nice is polite. It’s doing what is expected: smiling at the cashier, holding a door, speaking courteously, not offending. Nice is safe. It doesn’t ask me to take any risk or to make a connection. I can be nice and still make judgments about people. I can be nice and still merely tolerate others, with an insincere smile on my face. I can be nice and remain indifferent, not caring if the person I’m interacting with is getting what they need.

But kind asks more of me. Continue reading

Go Out and Make Some Memories

“Kindness causes us to learn, and to forget, many things” (Anne-Sophie Swetchine)

I’ve always been fascinated by memory. How my husband remembers incidents I don’t recall at all, how I’ll remember something that is completely absent in his memory, and how we may both remember an episode from our shared past, but remember it so differently that we question the other’s sanity.

As I age, I wonder why I still recall embarrassing moments from grade school, but don’t remember why I got up from my desk and walked into the kitchen.

Scientists are always sharing new bits of information about memory. So, of course, I sat up and took notice when I saw a new study showing that we are made happier and healthier by recalling our own acts of kindness.

Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, conducted a three-day experiment in which they randomly assigned undergraduates to one of four tasks: 1) performing acts of kindness; 2) recalling acts of kindness they had performed in the past; 3) both performing and recalling acts of kindness; and 4) neither performing nor recalling acts of kindness.

Their findings revealed that study participants in groups 1, 2, and 3 all reported an increase in their well-being: greater life satisfaction and positive feelings, and a decrease in negative feelings. It didn’t matter whether they performed acts of kindness, recalled acts of kindness, or did both—all experienced the same level of enduring and stable happiness and satisfaction. Continue reading

Tempus Fugiting? Try These Strategies for Slowing the Passage of Time

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” (Steve Jobs)

It’s no secret that our relationship with time changes as we age. When we’re children, time seems expansive, sprawling. Summer vacation is vast; the span between Labor Day and Christmas feels interminable. It takes forever for that special event we’ve been anticipating to finally arrive.

A few decades later, time turns on us. The seasons fly by. Birthdays accumulate like dead leaves in autumn, and instead of savoring time, we just want to slow it down.

It’s not our imaginations. Time really is perceived differently by children and adults. One reason is simply the obvious: as we age, each year is a smaller percentage of our life. When you’re ten, a year is ten percent of your lifetime; but when you’re 60, it’s less than two percent.

But there’s more to it than that. Continue reading

Sharing Your Cup of Kindness…

“We scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested…. Here is the exercise: find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do tomorrow and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood.” (Martin Seligman)

Attribution: Donna CameronThe holiday season can be stressful. It’s a time when another year is hurtling toward its close—often reminding us of unmet goals and the swift passage of time. It’s also a time when expectations and obligations collide with excess, and unless we’ve learned to set reasonable boundaries, stress is often the result.

Multiple recent studies show that one great way to counter stress is to spread some kindness. Research by Elizabeth Raposa, Holly Laws, and Emily Ansell, from the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, showed that when people extend small acts of kindness, such as holding a door, offering assistance, or waving a car into a line of traffic, they experience less stress than on days when they don’t perform these small kindnesses.

The aim isn’t to be the kindest person in the room, it’s to be the kindest version of yourself. Continue reading