Worthy New Year Intentions…

Attribution: Donna CameronIf you are setting intentions for the year ahead, may I suggest starting with Neil Gaiman? On New Year’s Eve, the splendid author and visionary often shares his hopes for the world and its inhabitants in the coming year. He doesn’t do it every year, but often enough that it is something to look forward to and savor, like the very best piece of chocolate—the one you saved for last, and it was just as good as you hoped it would be.

It’s been my own tradition since starting this blog to share one of Mr. Gaiman’s New Year messages as we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another. It’s always hard to choose—each one speaks to me on a different level and touches my heart in a different way. You can read several of them on this page of his website. As 2017 sputters toward closure, I’m sharing the message Gaiman wrote for 2015, with hopes that it will touch you, too:

…keep reading…

Kindness and Generosity – Offering Our Unique Gifts

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”  (Gautama Buddha)

Flowering Cherry and Moss 2A few posts ago, I wrote about the connection between kindness and a sense of abundance.  The logical next step when one’s view of the world is of abundance rather than scarcity is to express that abundance through generosity.

I have been blessed to be the recipient of so much generosity throughout my life—from my friends, my professional colleagues, my family, and even strangers.  Their generosity is expressed through the wisdom they so willingly share, through their time, their thoughtful actions, and their kind words.

When we think of generosity, our first thoughts are likely of material gifts or donations of cash, and, of course, these are elemental expressions of generosity, but they aren’t our only gifts.

The Three T’s

There’s an adage in the non-profit world that board members need to be willing to give the three T’s: Time, Talent, and Treasure.  Treasure is usually interpreted in monetary terms—especially for charitable and philanthropic non-profits.  If board members won’t donate to the cause, it’s hard to convince others to do so.  Hence, grant applications will often ask if 100 percent of the board has made a donation to the organization.  Boards with “high-rollers” can usually easily answer yes, but if members of the board are part of the constituency the organization serves, there may be some who have little to spare in the treasure department.  That’s why applications don’t ask how much board members have donated, only if they have.  A $10 donation from someone who may have to skip a meal to make that donation is just as important—perhaps more so—than the $50,000 donation from a corporate CEO.

Being generous with our talent asks only that we are willing to share what we do best, whether that’s fundraising, marketing, budgeting, schmoozing, or baking cupcakes.  Each of us has unique talents and part of the job of being human is recognizing them and sharing them where they are most needed.

Generosity of time is an essential element in non-profits and elsewhere.  As we have explored in an earlier post, we are often so pressed for time, so overscheduled, that we blow off opportunities to extend kindness.  Or maybe we don’t even see them in our rush to meet so many deadlines.  Generosity with our time when time is limited can be a kindness beyond measure—especially if we are able to give without conveying to the recipient our stress or our inconvenience.

Other Ways to Be Generous

Beyond the three T’s, there are a multitude of other ways we can be generous:

We can be generous in deed: It can be as simple as holding a door for someone, helping to carry a heavy load, or offering a hand.  It might be bringing freshly-baked bread to a neighbor or washing someone else’s dirty dishes without grousing.  There are so many generous deeds we can offer—big and small—and mostly it’s a matter of training our eyes to look for them.

We can be generous of word: It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day with a kind word.  Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  Of course, he is also reported to have said: “I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel they have not said enough.”  Both quotes show how powerful a sincerely expressed compliment can be.  And the wonderful thing is that they’re easy!  We can compliment someone on the great service they provided, or the astuteness of an observation, a well-written report, or how their smile brightens a room.  All we have to do is pay attention.

We can be generous of spirit:  The Buddhist practice of metta, often translated as lovingkindness, teaches practitioners to repeat phrases—aimed first at oneself, then loved ones, then acquaintances and strangers, and finally even to adversaries.  The phrases express a wish for happiness, for safety, peace, freedom from pain, and so forth.  In offering metta to people with whom we share conflict or difficulties, people who have hurt or angered us, we are, says Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, “recognizing our essential interconnectedness.”  Salzberg notes that in offering metta to a difficult person, we are not condoning bad or hurtful actions. “Instead, we are looking deeply into our hearts and discovering a capacity for lovingkindness that is not dependent on circumstances and personalities.”  We are expressing generosity not only to others but to ourselves.  That capacity for compassion is our gift to the world.

If we can give nothing else, let us at least give the benefit of the doubt.  This is easier to do with family and friends than with mere acquaintances and strangers.  If a friend or loved one says something that we find hurtful, it’s usually easy to excuse—“that wasn’t how she meant it to come out,” “I know he’s been under a lot of pressure; he didn’t really mean it.”  Why can’t we offer that same understanding to strangers when they say or do something questionable or hurtful?  Instead, we generally ascribe the worst motives and label them jerks.

In our office, we continually remind ourselves to “assume one another’s good intent.”  A simple statement, but enormously powerful.  If I ruled the world (a frightening thought if there ever was one), I’d have the phrase, “we assume one another’s good intent” printed at the top of every meeting agenda and posted on the wall of every room where people gather.  It all comes down to the simple generosity of giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone we encounter.

Generosity isn’t just something we do for someone else.  When I choose to act generously, the greatest beneficiary is always myself.  There is no better expression of the abundance in my life, nor of the confidence that I not only have enough, I am enough.  Giving creates a joyful sense of oneness with my world and my fellow creatures.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” (Anne Frank)

 

Hurry Up! Hurry Up! … Impatience as a Barrier to Kindness

The more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others(Erik Erikson)

Attribution: Donna CameronWe’ve looked at fear as a barrier to kindness, and the previous post explored time—or our lack of it—as a major obstacle to being kind.  With lives that are overflowing with obligations, deadlines, and activities, making time to be kind may not always be a priority.  Today, I want to ponder a subset of the time conundrum: impatience.

Sometimes impatience is the result of feeling one doesn’t have time for the chit-chat, or time to be kept on hold.  And sometimes, we may have all the time in the world, but we don’t have much tolerance for the circumstances we find ourselves in.

When Time Is the Problem

If I am in a hurry, taking time to say kind words, offer assistance, or extend myself will just slow me down more.  I’ll fall further behind.  Sometimes it feels like the more rushed I am, the more things seem to be conspiring to get in my way: the slowest checker in the market, the driver who is stuck in first gear, the acquaintance who wants to tell me in great detail how she selected the yarn for the sweaters she is knitting for her dogs.  Yikes, I don’t have time for this!  I’m sure they’ll understand if I blow them off … after all, I’m busy!

But what is it I’m rushing to?  Often, it’s my job, a meeting, the next obligation on my never-ending list.  How many of us are so important or so overscheduled that we really haven’t time to be kind?  And if we are that important or overscheduled, is it by our choice, or someone else’s, or maybe nobody’s—we just think that’s the way it’s supposed to be?

Perhaps if I change my perspective.  Instead of allowing myself to get impatient because I have to go do my job, what if I decide my number one job is to be kind?

If being kind is my most important job, won’t it be easier to stand in line at the grocery story while the person in front of me fumbles for her checkbook and questions the cashier about the price of broccoli?  Won’t it be easier to follow the car going 25 when the speed limit is 45? Won’t it be easier to wait through 15 minutes on hold for the next customer service representative?  It’s all part of the job.

When Time Isn’t the Issue

Sometimes we may have the time we need to extend a kindness, but we may not have the tolerance.

I’m going to make a confession here:  I was really late in learning to tie my shoes, really late.  Most of my friends had that skill down when they were 4 or 5.  I was still struggling at 7.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn, but my parents quickly discovered that teaching me wasn’t easy and it was a lot easier just to tie my shoes for me, or to buy me shoes that didn’t need tying.  The problem was that I was left-handed and everyone else in my family was right-handed.  They’d show me how they did it, but I couldn’t make my hands do what theirs did.  Then they’d try to figure out how to do it from a left-handed perspective and they couldn’t do it.  So, the hell with it, just tie the kid’s shoes for her and send her on her way.

Finally, my mom or my dad found someone who was left-handed and asked them to show me.  Happily for all, the learning came easily and I’ve been tying my own shoes quite successfully for many decades.

My point here is that regardless of time issues, patience is required when it comes to teaching and to learning.  The best parents, teachers, and managers know that they need to allow the learner to stumble, fumble, or even just sit and think about it—without jumping in to fix, show them how to “do it right,” or do it for them.  My husband tutors kids in math and I see this patient kindness in his teaching.  If one explanation doesn’t do the trick, Bill finds another, or asks just the right questions until the students get it themselves.  He never rushes them, and when they finally get a concept, they own it.

Sometimes, we may think we’re being kind when we rush in to help, or to fix, or to get it just right, but what we may be doing is disempowering the person we think we’re helping.  The truly kind response may be to stand by silently while they figure it out, or explain a concept again in a different way, or to be willing to show someone something for the tenth time.  And that requires patience.

It takes patience to be kind and kindness to be patient.  But if I can view being kind as my job, it will be much easier to patiently teach a child, or instruct a new employee in an unfamiliar skill, or refrain from jumping in and doing something myself, thus denying someone else a valuable growth lesson.

“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.” (Simone Weil)

The Fundamental Things Apply … As Time Goes By

“We become what we love.  Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, is the kind of person you will eventually become.” (Wayne Muller)

By User:S Sepp (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:S Sepp  via Wikimedia Commons

Time seems to be our most precious resource these days.  We all have the same 24 hours, but for most of us, it’s never enough.  There’s rarely enough time to do everything we want to do.  And using some of that precious time to extend kindness may not be a priority.

Last February on Forbes.com, contributor Tim Maurer wrote a thoughtful article entitled, “Time Is More Precious Than Money.”  That’s right, Forbes, not High Times.

Maurer, a financial advisor, is part of a group of advisors that is deliberately asking new questions of themselves and their clients—questions that are intended to go beyond portfolios and financial investments to explore the values that make our lives richer in every sense, not just ka-ching.  When he explores asset allocation with his clients, he wants to probe beyond securities and talk about how they allocate their time, their lives, and their love.  Maurer states:  “We have the choice to order our loves, to acknowledge the limited nature of time and our own capacity, and to prioritize our work and life.”

As we allocate our time, are we creating space for kindness?  If it’s a priority, we will.  But, it’s a choice we need to make consciously, otherwise it may be squeezed out by the myriad other things clamoring for our time and attention.

It takes time to be kind.

  • It takes time to pause and think about what is the kind response.
  • It takes time to step out of our routine and enter into a genuine conversation, or provide assistance when doing so might delay us from our appointed rounds.
  • It takes time to be patient—to allow someone to fumble, stumble, and learn—without jumping in to fix, show them how to “do it right,” or do it for them.
  • It takes time to reach into our pocket and find a dollar that might help someone make it through another day and then to look that person in the eye and say a kind word as we hand it to them.
  • It takes time even to be kind to ourselves—to stop and think about whether what we need most is to slow down, take a walk, relax….

When I was working 60+ hours a week, and also trying to maintain some sort of a life outside of work, I think I often blew off opportunities to be kind.  The few moments it would take to drop someone a note, or to go out of my way to pick up a small gift, or to invite a friend to lunch or bake a treat for a neighbor…all were just too much, like dumping a bathtub full of water into an already sinking rowboat.

I have friends and colleagues whose workloads were as crazy as mine who nonetheless often went out of their way to be kind.  Their kindness, and their priorities put me to shame.  What great examples they are.  These are people who are just naturally kind and who would probably think it ridiculous to set an intention of kindness, or to spend time pondering the nature of kindness.  To them, kindness is like breathing, it requires no thought.

Kindness isn’t something we do only when we have time for it.  Kindness is how we choose to live.  I’m reminded of Robert Corin Morris’ lovely quote:

“The way we live our life is our spiritual practice—no more, no less, nothing but, nothing else.”

Now that I’ve cut my workload by half, I’m trying to look for those opportunities I used to overlook, and I’m also seeing that fitting them into my previous life might have been just what I needed—for kindness is energizing.  Isn’t it curious how many great lessons we learn through our rear-view mirrors?

It may not always be a good time to extend kindness, but it’s almost always the right time.

There are so many barriers to kindness.  I suspect, though, that once I can make kindness a natural, first response, the barriers begin to crumble.  Once I no longer have to tell myself to pause, to engage, to connect, kindness will become second-nature … at least that’s my hope.  For now, time and I are still skirmishing.  And I remind myself daily that taking time for kindness is what gives meaning to life.

“When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.” (Madeleine L’Engle)