Big (But Quiet) Kindness Lessons

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” (Rumi)

ttribution: Donna CameronI have encountered so many lessons during this year of living kindly. So many that I can’t name them all. And even if I try, I couldn’t do it in one blog post. So I thought I’d divide them into two posts and call one “Small Kindness Lessons” and the other “Big Kindness Lessons.” However, the more I thought about it, I see that there are no small kindness lessons, just as there are no small kindnesses.

We never know how far our kindness will reverberate. Will the smile we extended to the bus driver cause him to greet each passenger with a kind word, and will each of those people, in turn, extend a kindness that they otherwise might not have, and will one of those kindnesses—or a further kindness—mend a heart, lift someone from despair, or even save a life?

No, there are no small kindnesses. And likewise, the lessons of kindness may seem small, but they could extend far beyond our imagining.

That being said, as I think about this year of lessons in kindness, I see that some of them were quiet ahas, and others were cacophonous eurekas! Today, I’ll share what for me were some of the quiet ahas, though they are by no means small. Next time, it will be the thunderous eurekas. Where applicable, I’ll provide links to the post where I explored the idea.

Being kind and being nice are not the same thing. They’re not.  link

It takes patience to be kind and kindness to be patient.  link⇒

Curiosity can lead us to kindness. If we look for what’s behind unkindness, we will often reach a place of understanding.  link⇒

Kindness is an evolution, not a sudden transformation. Like most of the best things in life, developing a life of kindness is a gradual process. Kindness is a path that is its own destination.  link⇒

Being able to accept kindness is as important as being able to extend kindness.  link⇒

Kindness begins with me. A life of kindness begins with self-kindness. If I don’t think I’m worthy of my own kindness, how can I be consistently kind to others?  link⇒

Sometimes the kind thing to do is nothing.  link⇒

There’s no such thing as selective kindness. The person who is kind to you but unkind to the waiter is not a kind person.  link⇒

Kindness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.  link⇒

I can take kindness seriously without taking myself too seriously.

Like all things that we want to become good at, kindness takes practice.  link⇒

We teach kindness by modeling it, not by lecturing about it.

The kinder we are, the more kindness we experience.

Kind people are not without occasional bouts of pettiness, envy, anger or impatience, but they are able to rise above their impulses and express kindness. link⇒

If I am unable to see a way to express kindness I need to look more closely or broaden my field of vision.

All of these little ahas comprise a recipe for a kind life. None are terribly difficult, though practice is essential. If we can keep them in our hearts and in our awareness, we can not only enjoy a feast of compassion and connection, we can change the world.

These are just some of the hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seem to work in whispers and small kindnesses.” (Charles de Lint)

Kindness and Vulnerability

“A gift is like a seed; it is not an impressive thing. It is what can grow from the seed that is impressive. If we wait until our seed becomes a tree before we offer it, we will wait and wait, and the seed will die from lack of planting…. The miracle is not just the gift; the miracle is in the offering, for if we do not offer, who will?” (Wayne Muller)

Attribution: Donna CameronPeriodically, the universe sends me a message. It’s not some disembodied James Earl Jones voice, or a bolt of lightning that rattles my foundation; more often than not, it’s a barely perceptible tap on my shoulder that says, “Pay attention here.”

I was at a conference last week where I happened to overhear two people talking about vulnerability and about Brené Brown’s TED talk on the subject. Then, last night, I was reading an article in a writer’s magazine that spoke of the writer’s need to be vulnerable, and also referred to Brené Brown’s TED talk. I felt that tap on my shoulder and heard that inner whisper, “Pay attention.”

The wonderful and sometimes dreadful thing about modern life is that we can easily and instantly access almost anything. Within seconds and a few keystrokes on Google, I was watching Dr. Brown’s 2010 talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

Wow! If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time, I promise you. This delightful and insightful talk explored a trait that whole-hearted people share: vulnerability. It described the willingness we must have to “allow ourselves to be seen,” with all our imperfections, in order to fully embrace our lives.

I can’t do justice to her words. You want to hear them first-hand. Really.

Whether we’re committing to love, or art, or business, or kindness, we must have the courage to do it whole-heartedly, with full awareness that there will always be those who find us lacking. In a way, knowing that frees us—if we can just embrace our vulnerability—for if we stop trying to please everyone, we can focus on being who we were meant to be. And isn’t that all life is asking of us?

Of course, this talk about vulnerability got me to thinking about kindness, and the connection between kindness and vulnerability. I’ve talked before about the difference between being kind and being nice. I don’t think “nice” requires us to be vulnerable. I can be nice without risk, and without exposing too much of myself. I can be nice without making a connection, or without really caring whether or not you benefit from the encounter. Nice, while often pleasant, doesn’t require sincerity or commitment.

To me, “kind” is very different. Kind means connecting; it means being conscious and intentional about the impact my words or actions may have; it means expending energy and effort and caring about the outcome. It also means suspending judgments and accepting people as they are. Kind can be messy and may take me to places where I am awkward, clumsy, and tongue-tied. Kindness requires me to take a risk. Kindness requires me to be vulnerable.

Since starting this year of living kindly, I have tried to make a conscious effort to do things kindly that I once may have done nicely. Outwardly, there’s probably not a lot of difference. In the past, if I chose to give a dollar or two to someone who asked me for money, I would do so quickly, and hurry on, sometimes wondering if the person was really in need, or if they were just lazy and saw me as an easy mark. Now, I try to pause and exchange a few words, make eye-contact, and wish them well. In most cases—though not all—I feel a connection between me and the person I am engaged with. For a brief time, we are both vulnerable, and it feels good. I don’t worry about whether their need is genuine or whether I am being a schmuck; I just hope in some way I am helping.

There is even a vulnerability to writing about kindness and to inviting people to read my periodic musings. Am I saying too much about myself? Too little? Am I pontificating (God, I hope not!)? Has it all been said before and said better? Am I missing the point entirely?

If I allow myself to be vulnerable, the answer is it doesn’t matter. As Brené Brown eloquently explains, connection is why we’re all here, sharing this planet, and it’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. To make that deep connection, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. That means having the courage to be imperfect, to expose our flaws, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

Living our most authentic life, whatever that means to each of us—for me it’s choosing kindness—requires that we let go of our shield and lower our guard, and that we embrace our flaws and our vulnerability. It’s scary, but, oh, the rewards of living an authentic life are beyond measure!

“Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” (Jean Vanier)

[Before I close, I want to encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s TED talk. I promise it’s worth 20 minutes of your life—maybe it’s even a message from the universe to you.]

Extend Yourself

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”  (Dalai Lama XIV)

Dr. Dale Turner

Dr. Dale Turner

Years ago, theologian, speaker, and extraordinarily kind man, Dr. Dale Turner, handed out little green cards with two simple words printed on them: “Extend Yourself.”  I have no religious background or education, nor any inclination toward such, but every time I heard Dr. Turner, he touched me to the core.  He also made me laugh—a fine combination.  I’ve carried that little card in my wallet and had those two words clipped beside my desk for nearly three decades.  It seems to me that the phrase “Extend Yourself” captures the essence of kindness.  It also highlights the difference between niceness and kindness.

Nice is something we can be without extending ourselves.  Nice is tipping the hat, holding the door, smiling at the cashier.  Nice may even be dropping a dollar in someone’s hand if we do so without looking the person in the eye and saying a genuinely caring word.  Kind is asking how we can help, offering our hand, jumping in without being asked, and engaging in conversation that goes beyond the superficial.  All of these actions have an element of risk—we might be rebuffed, ignored, or disrespected.

Nice generally doesn’t inconvenience us.  I can share my bounty with you because I have plenty.  Kind is when we share knowing that we may not have as much as we would like, and that’s okay.  We often go out of our way to extend ourselves or to be kind.

Generosity

Extending ourselves is an act of generosity, whether material or relational.

Recently there was a story on NPR describing how the impulse to generosity seems to be hardwired in our brains.  In a study of children, researchers found that they smiled significantly more when they were giving treats away than when they received the treats themselves. But what the researchers found to be especially interesting was that the children smiled significantly more when they gave away their own treats than if they gave away an identical treat provided by the experimenter for the purpose of giving away.

I saw another story two days ago, about Calvin Olsen, a second grader in Las Vegas.  He told his parents that he had been given so much for Christmas he didn’t want anything for himself for his birthday.  Instead, he wanted “to give all my birthday presents to kids that need them.”  He asked for $25 gift cards for older kids and presents for the little kids.  Sixty people came to Calvin’s birthday party.  He collected over $600 in cash and gift cards for kids and teens in foster care, $100 of which was from his own savings.

That impulse to generosity that Calvin Olsen and the kids in the NPR study have seems to be an instinctive knowledge of the rightness of “extending yourself.”  Let’s hope as they grow older we don’t “help” them unlearn it.  Instead, let’s learn from them.

extend yourself

 

Being Nice Isn’t the Same as Being Kind

 “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”  (Henry James)

Bandalier - New MexicoI think most people would say I am a nice person.  I was raised to be nice.  “Be nice” was one of my mother’s mantras.  It isn’t all that hard to be nice; in fact, it’s easy.  It’s also benign, it’s relatively passive, it’s safe … one can be nice without expending too much energy or investing too much of oneself in others.  One can be nice without risking.

But some years ago, I realized that I want to be more than nice.  I want to be kind.  Kindness is a value I hold dearest.  My life would matter if at the end of it people would say of me, “She was a kind person.”  That would be a life that made a difference.

So, I aspired to be kind, and I think sometimes I was.  But just as often, I was impatient, I was snarky, I was judgmental, I was indifferent or simply oblivious.

Being kind—truly kind—is hard.  Maybe it isn’t difficult for everyone, but it is for me. Nice requires little effort.  I can be nice while also being disinterested, critical, and even sarcastic.  I can’t be kind and be any of those things.  Being kind means caring; it means making an effort; it means thinking about the impact I’m having in an interaction with someone and endeavoring to make it rich and meaningful—to give them what they need at that exact moment.  It means letting go of my judgments and accepting people as they are. Kindness requires me to take a risk.

A life of kindness is not something that I can live only when it suits me.  I’m not a kind person if I’m kind only when it’s easy or convenient.  A life of kindness means being kind when it’s neither convenient nor easy—in fact sometimes it might be terribly hard and tremendously inconvenient.  That’s when it matters most.

I believe that kindness is something I need to recommit to every day.  Setting an intention to be kind is like setting an intention to learn a foreign language or to play the piano—the intention isn’t enough.  One must be willing to devote time and energy to developing the skill, to understanding what is involved … one must practice.

So I have christened 2015 as my “year of living kindly.”

Each day I will recommit to being a kind person and each day I will undoubtedly learn more about kindness—and about myself.  I plan to post about my progress and my ah-has a couple of times a week.  Since there isn’t a kindness switch and I have several decades of self-centered niceness as my fallback behavior, I suspect I will fail as much as I succeed.  However, if I end 2015 a kinder person than I am today, I will have achieved what I am setting out to do.