Kindness Report Card

 “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong.  Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.”  (George Washington Carver)

gradesThe first three months of my year of living kindly have passed like a kid on a skateboard.  Since the end of a quarter seems like an appropriate time for a report card, I will indulge in some self-evaluation.

Am I kinder than I was three months ago?  I think so, but my husband says he hasn’t noticed any difference.

Admittedly, Bill sees me at my worst.  He’s also quick to alert me when I fall short of my intent.  After an apple-green Fiat pulls out right in front of our car from a side street causing me to mash down my brakes, and then slows to a crawl ahead of me, I say, “Oh, come on, lady, really, how about looking both ways?”

Bill’s response: “Was that kind?”  No, probably not.

[Note to self for next time I embark on anything of this nature: do not share intentions with husband—assuming same husband; do not invite him to follow blog.]

As I review the concepts I’ve explored over the last three months, I see that there are some areas where I have taken my ideas to heart, and some where I may not have picked up my own gauntlet.

Overall, I guess I’d give myself about a C+.  Just looking at that grade makes me shudder.  When I was in school (back in the days of crinoline and manual typewriters), anything less than an A was terribly upsetting, and anything lower than a B—well—other than a C in penmanship in 4th grade—I never got any grades lower than B’s (and very few of those).  So giving myself a C+ in kindness feels like failing a test in a favorite subject.

In our office, we’ve been talking a lot about evaluations, and we decided there’s a lot to be said for a simple “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” method.  Thumbs up indicates that one’s on the right track, and thumbs down indicates the need for a lot more work.

thumbs downUnder the “needs a lot of work” area of my report card, I would list the following:

Kindness awareness – My tendency toward obliviousness throughout most areas of my life extends to kindness.  I am missing opportunities to be kind by simply not seeing them.  Just as I step over piles of clutter in my office and totally don’t see dirty dishes on the kitchen counter, I am often oblivious to situations where I could offer a kind word or deed.  It is not intentional, it is my own failure to be present and mindful.  I think it’s called GAD (general awareness disorder), and there’s undoubtedly a pharmaceutical company looking into it, or a support group for us somewhere, but, well, who’s paying attention…?

Being judge-y – I think I am doing better here, but I still catch myself with unkind or critical thoughts.  I am, however, far less likely to voice them and more able to brush them aside.  I still find myself wondering, though, about the people who allow their screaming kids to run around the restaurant, or the ones who leave their carts blocking the grocery aisle while they talk on their phones.  I guess they are oblivious in their own ways, too.  Someone told me that it’s okay to think snarky thoughts if I keep them to myself.  I’m not so sure about that, but I’ll take a pass whenever offered.

Risking rejection or looking foolish – At times, I am still hesitant to extend a kindness if I fear it will be rejected.  Likewise, I have passed on opportunities to be kind if I feared they would draw unwanted attention or if I might appear incompetent or foolish.  I play it too safe.  I am incompetent and foolish in so many areas of my life—might as well admit it, get over it, and plough through.

thumbs downMy report card might classify these as “on the right track”:

Patience – While still a long way to go, I am more patient.  I am taking to heart my own perspective that if my #1 job is to be kind, then it’s much easier to be patient when someone or something gets in my way or slows me down.  If being kind supersedes all else, the time it takes shouldn’t bother me—and, more and more, it doesn’t.

Kindness expectations – I am making an effort to expect kindness and smooth sailing in all my interactions, and with very few exceptions that is what I am experiencing.  It does appear that given a chance most people’s default setting is kindness.  The downside to this is that I have had almost no opportunities to see how I do at expressing kindness in the face of unkindness or rudeness.  People are all just so nice.

Kindness awareness – Yes, this was also on my “needs work” list, but there are areas of progress.  I have gotten in the habit of frequently asking myself before I say or do something: Is this the kindest action?  Is this the kind response?  And there have been times when that pause has enabled me to adjust my course or choose differently or more wisely.  A couple of weeks ago, I was stopped for speeding—first time in 35 years.  As the policeman walked up to my car, I reminded myself to be kind and friendly—that this part of his job was not always pleasant.  Are you thinking that I charmed him out of writing me a ticket?  No, that didn’t happen, but he very kindly wrote me up for only five miles above the speed limit, instead of the thirteen I was actually going, which saved me about $70 on the ticket.  I thanked him very sincerely.  Now, on my way home from work, when I see him parked in that same hidden driveway, I am tempted to wave, but I fear he may misinterpret the sign.

Expressing appreciation – Going back to that oblivious thing, I know I am still missing a lot of opportunities to express appreciation, but I am also doing it more: commending people for their work, notes of appreciation, sincere thanks.

So, as a new quarter starts, I see that I have some work to do: I want to extend kindness more even when it may be out of my way or inconvenient—always mindful that it’s my #1 job.  I want to take some risk and be kind even if it might not be comfortable.  I want to overcome inertia and obliviousness and expand my kindness radar.  I want to continue to pause, to express thanks, and look for the kind response.  I also want to get at least a B next quarter, or find a teacher who grades easier….

“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”  (Tom Bodett)

Choosing Peace

“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.”  (Author Unknown)

Attribution: Donna CameronIf someone would just be rude to me I could test out my kindness resolve.  Everyone’s just been so damn nice.  In the first two weeks of my “year of living kindly,” I have encountered nothing but courtesy, friendliness, and, yes, kindness—lots of it.  I’m feeling like a researcher of a disease that has already been eradicated.

In her book, Grace (Eventually)—Thoughts on Faith, the devoutly irreverent and hilarious Anne Lamott describes having been swindled by a carpet salesman.  After days of increasingly rancorous back-and-forth to recover her $50, Lamott decides to choose peace over victory.  She returns his bad check with a note of apology and a bouquet of daisies.  Even then, the “carpet guy” gets in one last jab and, rather than resume arguing with him, she lets go.

It’s a charming and provocative story—told as only Anne Lamott can tell a tale—and it caused me to wonder how I would behave in the same circumstances.  Would I relinquish the notion that someone (me) has to be right and someone (the other guy) has to be wrong?  Would I give up the satisfaction of having the last word?  Would I surrender $50—or $5—that was rightfully mine to gain peace of mind and perspective?  Would I trade righteousness for harmony?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am likely to respond when sharp words, criticism or belittling comments are directed at me—assuming someone in mellow Seattle gets cranky and takes it out on me.  I know I have choices, but which I will choose remains to be seen:

  • I can respond in kind (“tit for tat”); I can be equally sharp or critical: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” There’s a good chance this would escalate the situation.
  • Or I can respond in such a way that indicates my superiority (“I’m above your petty criticism”): “What a shame that you have to resort to name-calling.” Implied here is I feel sorry for you, you under-evolved oaf. That may not further escalate the situation, but the other person will still feel like I’ve dropped a warm turd in his hand.
  • I can completely ignore the person and their words or actions. It may be a safe response—especially if the other person is psychotic or deranged—but it does little to improve things. The message I send is another of superiority: “I can’t be bothered acknowledging your existence.” Yeah, that’s going to improve things!
  • I can also acknowledge my fear and my pride and think about how I might connect with the other person where their fear and pride reside. I can say,   “I’m sorry you feel that way, and sorry if I did anything to annoy you. I’ll try to be more aware next time.” The thing is, I have to mean it. This can be where confrontation ends and reconciliation begins. However, if I say it with a tone that conveys sarcasm or superiority, or insincerity, we’re right back in turd territory.

This takes practice and can be clumsy and awkward at first, sometimes resulting in all the things we hope to avoid.  But, just like playing the piano or hitting a golf ball, it takes some practice before we start seeing skill development.  I comfort myself with the quote from Julia Cameron: “It’s impossible to get better and look good at the same time.”

I don’t recall instances in recent years when someone verbally “attacked” me and I attacked back.  That’s just not my style.  I’m too “nice” for that.  But I confess that there have been times where I have acted with indifference, disdain, and even superiority.  Generally, my response has been in answer to what I perceived from the other person—be they family, friend, colleague, service-worker, or complete stranger.  Perceptions aren’t always accurate, and I have control over both my perceptions and my reactions. This is where kindness resides.

Surrender doesn’t necessarily mean giving up or letting go.  I think it can mean opening up or letting something in.  That’s what Anne Lamott did with her shady carpet guy.  My time will come.  I’ll let you know.

And if it doesn’t and no one is rude or unpleasant to me … I can always call Comcast.

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us.  Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them….  Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”  (Rainier Maria Rilke)