A Pause Gives Us the Gift of Grace

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Victor Frankl

DSCN3073In recent weeks, we’ve reviewed the many benefits of kindness: health, relationships, life satisfaction, professional and business success, to name just a few. And we’ve talked about factors that can get in the way of our best kind intentions, including fear, time, apathy, obliviousness, and keeping score.

Let’s revisit the good stuff now, the skills of kindness—practices we can add to our daily lives to expand the kindness around us. Most of the skills to extending kindness and countering unkindness are pretty simple . . . but that doesn’t mean they’re always easy. They take practice. Kindness can’t be turned on and off like a faucet. It’s something we develop with practice—just as we improve in playing tennis or the saxophone.

A great way to think about the skills we’ll be exploring over the coming weeks is to see them as tools in our toolbox, or—using a more high-tech analogy—as apps we can download and call upon when needed.

For today, let’s look at a skill that sounds simple, but is tough in practice: learning to pause.

When we’re insulted or disrespected, we often respond in a knee-jerk fashion. We sling an insult right back, or we say something that we hope will put the offender in their place. It’s an automatic reaction, and it takes some effort not to succumb to it. But there are a few excellent reasons not to: Continue reading

What’s In It for Me?

“When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.” ~Harold Kushner

DSCN3278It’s not crass to ask about the personal benefits of being kind. Neither is it selfish. It’s both healthy and human to think about how our behaviors might reward or punish us, and most of us naturally gravitate toward the actions and attitudes that reward us in some way. Kindness is just such a benefactor. Let’s look at all the good reasons to step up our kindness and also try to expand it in the world around us:

On the health front: when we experience kindness—whether directly or even just witnessing it—our body produces the hormones serotonin and oxytocin, which lower our blood pressure, reduce inflammation, fight heart disease, and slow aging.

The endorphins kindness produces in us have been shown to reduce chronic pain, increase happiness, boost the body’s immune system, decrease depression, and offer us an overall feeling of well-being. In the last month, a new study was released showing that kindness is as effective or more effective than drugs or therapy in relieving serious anxiety or depression.

If kindness were a prescription medication or vitamin, we’d call it a miracle drug.

The business case for kindness: There’s abundant evidence that businesses with kind cultures are more successful. They consistently have: Continue reading

The Universe Reveals Her Secrets….

“Practice puts brains in your muscles.” (Sam Snead)

purple flowers 1 (2)Daily, I am inspired, entertained, and even challenged by the thoughtful posts of my fellow bloggers. Recently, the wonderful Jennifer Balink at Jenny’s Lark set me off on a journey of recollection and recognition. Her lovely post recounted an experience where, as a teenager, she witnessed a friend’s mother react with grace to a situation where most of us would have a meltdown. It took years for Jenny to realize what it is that gives someone the ability to instantly respond to a setback with poise and perspective.

It isn’t virtue, or superhuman patience, or even piety. It’s practice. Tedious, mundane, sometimes even annoying, practice. As lackluster as that word may be, I believe it’s one of a dozen or so secrets to living one’s best life.

Practice is one of the most undervalued traits or actions that we humans have at our disposal. Given a choice, we’d much prefer innate genius, instantaneous transformation, or magic to make us better at some pursuit—or simply to become better humans—when the answer is practice. Just keep doing it. Just keep showing up.

“Don’t you have something a bit more wondrous . . . something, I dunno, maybe kinda sexy? Like enchantment, or sleight-of-hand, or maybe something I could buy with cryptocurrency?” Continue reading

Kindness – An Evolution or a Transformation?

“Be kind to people and don’t judge, for you do not know what demons they carry and what battles they are fighting.” (Vashti Quiroz-Vega)

Little FriedaHave you ever been adopted by a stray cat? It prowls the porch for a few weeks; then you put out some water and maybe a smidge of tuna, and before you know it, you’re hand-feeding him Chicken Marengo from the dinner table and making him a bed on the best chair in the bedroom.

That’s how kindness sneaks up on you. You start small and pretty soon it’s an habitual practice and it’s made a home in your life.

I’m a big believer in incremental change. Maybe that’s because attempts to make lofty changes all at once have never worked for me. Whether it’s exercise, writing, or keeping my office clean, an attempt to go from zero to sixty in one big leap always resulted in failure.

After years of thwarted good intentions, I finally realized that if I start small—exercise for 15 minutes, write for one half-hour, clean one shelf of my bookcase—the resulting good feelings reinforce the action and I want to do more. And pretty soon a new habit is ingrained.

Kindness works the same way. One can’t go from being oblivious and self-absorbed to being Mother Teresa’s more compassionate sister by simply saying, “From now on, I’m going to be a kind person.” As author R.J. Palacio recently stated, “If kindness were easy, after all, everyone would do it.” We have years of inattention and self-centeredness to overcome, not to mention the attendant fears of having our kindness rejected or “doing it wrong.” But we can go out of our way to perform one small kindness each day, and perhaps after a couple of weeks, perform two, or engage in a large act of kindness. As we see how good it feels, we want to do more, and pretty soon we’re approaching every encounter with the hope that there will be an opportunity to extend ourselves.

I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a small kindness. A warm smile, a kind word, a door held or a package carried—they all influence the receiver to pass it on or “pay it forward.” We have no way of knowing how far one kind action can reverberate.

On the other side of the spectrum, we can stop the reverberation of unkindness by absorbing an insult without retaliating, or hearing harsh words and not hurling them back. These small—but difficult—acts will help to slow the epidemic of unkindness. That’s hard to do, especially when we are just itching to voice the clever retort that will put that person in his or her place. It helps to approach such encounters with the spirit of inquiry we talked about a few weeks ago, to ask what might be motivating this person to act as he does, and what burden he might be carrying that has shortened his temper and brought out the Darth Vader in him. We don’t even have to understand—it’s enough to recognize that there might be more going on than we can see, and to give the benefit of the doubt.

Kindness—like playing the piano or becoming proficient at golf—requires practice. One way to instill the practice that will lead to proficiency is to set an intention of being five percent kinder—to ourselves and to others. Just five percent—or maybe two percent, or ten. Not a lot, but just enough to notice the difference it makes. Let that small incremental change take root and flower. After a while, and with steady practice, kindness becomes both intentional and instinctive—and that’s when magic happens.

Think about it for a moment. What would you do differently if you were just five percent kinder? To yourself? To others? To the planet?

Simone Weil, the French philosopher, wisely said, “Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul.”

Like the stray cat who comes to stay, let kindness creep in. Feed it and make a bed for it. Before you know it, the light will flood your soul….

“When we do what we love, again and again, our life comes to hold the fragrance of that thing.” (Wayne Muller)