“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)
The 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.
Under 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.
My 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)