“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” (Roger Ebert)
I’ve reached the halfway point in my year of living kindly. As I did at the end of the first quarter, it’s time to pause for a self-assessment.
At the end of March I gave myself a report card, with an overall grade of C+. I generally felt I was on the right track, but maybe not making enough effort or stepping out of my comfort zone often enough. A few of my friends chastised me (but did so very kindly) for being hard on myself—in fact for being unkind to myself. My husband broke his silence and posted a rant, noting he had made no such commitment to kindness.
So, this time I’ll look for a less judgmental way to evaluate my progress toward living a kind life. Maybe some open-ended questions that don’t require arbitrary scoring and potential self-flagellation. This format appeals to my periodic dual persona, plus, after six months, I’ve finally realized that my blog has a delightful acronym.
YOLK: Have you noticed a difference in your life after making this year-long commitment to kindness?
Me: I have. I feel kinder inside. It may not be evident to anyone else, but I think I am kinder. I think about kindness a lot, and I actively look for it. I do believe it directs my attention in very positive ways.
YOLK: What have been your biggest ah-has?
Me: One of my biggest ah-has is how many ah-has there are, so this is not going to be a short answer. A huge ah-ha is the role of mindfulness in kindness. All I need to do is pay attention and I see that opportunities to extend kindness are everywhere. I think we often operate on automatic-pilot, oblivious to the people and circumstances around us, and the difference a word, a smile, or an act of kindness could make. I’ve come to see that the simple reminder to “pay attention” may be one of the universal secrets to a good life.
Somewhat related to this is the power of the pause. That’s huge. Instead of speaking or acting in instant response to a situation, taking the time to pause and think about what I want my response to activate—and why—has been very powerful. In the space of that brief pause, I might totally change my reaction, or perhaps decide not to respond at all. That pause has always guided me to a better place. I frequently reflect on the four questions Rotarians pause to ask:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and friendship?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
If the answer to any is no, choose silence. Who knew Rotarians were so wise?
Another ah-ha is how much kindness there is all around. My eyes and ears are more attuned to it, and I see it everywhere. Big kindness and little kindness. They’re ubiquitous. I’ve also become more aware than ever of just how tremendously kind my husband is—to friends, to neighbors, to strangers, even to me. I married good, Mom. Bill will probably take issue with this, because he has a cynical, skeptical scientist reputation to uphold, but it’s true.
The last big ah-ha is probably that when I see unkindness, it’s easier now to see what might be behind it—fear, embarrassment, insecurity, obliviousness—and to be a bit less judge-y.
YOLK: Where do you still have the most work to do?
Me: You may have noticed that I said a bit less judge-y. I’m still too quick to judge when I see someone do something unkind (often while behind the wheel—that particular location seems to bring out the worst in the best of us…especially in Seattle traffic). I need to do a better job of activating my curiosity so I can imagine a good reason why someone cuts another person off in traffic or blares their horn and offers a rude hand gesture. I need to be more adept at giving the benefit of the doubt. Additionally, there are always more ways to express and extend kindness; I hope to find them in the next six months.
YOLK: Has anything surprised you?
Me: I am surprised daily, sometimes hourly, and am in a perpetual state of wonder, both over the kindnesses and the unkindnesses I see, hear, or read about. I’ve also been surprised by the whole business of blogging. Putting a commitment out there in a very public way is at times scary, daunting, and certainly counter to my generally private and introverted nature. Nonetheless, I love it and I’ve connected with some wise, smart, and delightful people as a result. It’s been a great lesson in risk-taking at a time when I was ready to inject some risk into my life. It’s also been a good lesson in making my self-imposed deadlines, as I’ve often related to the wonderful Douglas Adams quote: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
But getting back to kindness, perhaps the biggest surprise has also been the simplest. This commitment to kindness feels right—it is exactly what I should be doing and want to be doing at this exact moment in my life. How cool is that?
YOLK: Okay, because I know you better than you know yourself, I know you haven’t entirely given up on that letter grade method of appraisal. What say you?
Me: B-minus, but a tarnished silver star for good intentions….
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” (Seneca)