“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” (Marian Wright Edelman)
I recall bringing home a report card in my junior year of high school. It bore all A’s and one B+ in chemistry, a class I struggled mightily with. I was proud of the A’s and even the B+, knowing how hard I had worked for that grade. My mom took one look at the card and said only this: “If only you’d done better in chemistry—you’d have straight A’s.”
At first, I was devastated. My almost-straight-A report card had disappointed my mother. Then I was mad. How dare she not appreciate how hard I had worked to get these grades? For her, they were just something to brag to her friends about. All-A’s was brag-worthy; a B was not. That may have been the day I decided to stop trying to please my mother.
For years, I thought mine was the only mother who would find an almost perfect report card inadequate. But over the years, I’ve spoken with countless people who relayed almost identical stories. Author and physician Rachel Remen describes a similar experience when, as a child, she brought home a test paper with a score of 98%, Continue reading →
“Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” (Albert Camus)
It’s time for a light-hearted blog post, I told myself. I’ve been dreadfully serious lately—blogging about politics, corruption, and evil (which may actually be one-in-the-same). Blogging about injustice, inequality, and incivility. How about some sunny, end-of-summer froth? I need it, and so, probably, do you.
Unfortunately, my blogging muse, Bessie, had other ideas. She kept sending me clips and quotes of politicians loudly demonstrating their incivility and idiocy. Or articles about celebrity excesses that mock my belief that we should choose to live simply so others may simply live.
Finally, I conceded to Bessie that my clever concoction of comedy (and alliteration) could be postponed (but not too long, please!). I waited to see what the old girl would send. Bess delivered through a delicious luncheon conversation with my friend, Kris, and a Washington Post article entitled “Caring About Tomorrow,” by Jamil Zaki, Stanford professor of Psychology and director of the University’s Social Neuroscience Laboratory. Continue reading →
“When words are both true and kind, they can change the world.” (Buddha)
Are you experiencing media overload?
Recently, I had a thought-provoking conversation with a friend about this subject. She admitted that she compulsively reads the news every morning and is concerned about the effect it’s having on her. She’s noticed that she’s become more pessimistic about people and more discouraged about the world. Sometimes she feels like she’s shutting off from other people and becoming isolated. All this at a time when she recognizes a need for just the opposite.
She’s not alone. I could relate to much of what she said, and I’m guessing many of you can, too.
The news is constantly with us, and most of it is disturbing. It’s a challenge to balance our desire to stay informed with our need for at least occasional peace of mind.
“The secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.” (Rachel Naomi Remen, MD)
Since 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?”
“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 →