Fear and Trembling In 2020

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” (Gandhi)

There are three dimensions of fear, as it relates to kindness.

Extending Kindness

First, fear inhibits us from extending kindness. We fear rejection, we fear being misunderstood, or appearing clumsy, embarrassing or calling attention to ourselves. Simply put, we fear the vulnerability of not knowing how our kindness will play out. It feels safer to do nothing.

A good question to ask if we’re hesitating to extend a kindness is, “Could my kindness here make a positive difference?” Then focus your attention on doing good.

Receiving Kindness

Sometimes, fear gets in the way of our receiving kindness. We may fear being perceived as weak or needy. Perhaps we want to maintain a distance between ourselves and the giver and fear strings may be attached to the proffered kindness. Maybe we fear we don’t deserve the kindness. Receiving can be just as awkward and clumsy as giving. Accepting the kindness of others with grace and appreciation is itself an act of kindness. And it should be a pretty easy one. But it takes practice. Whether you are offered a material gift, assistance, or a compliment, receive it graciously—and gratefully—and savor the kindness.

Perhaps the question to ask is, “What’s the most gracious response here?” We’re never wrong if we offer the best of who we are.

Behaving Unkindly

Fear is at the heart of so many unkind actions. When we feel stupid or inept, or threatened by a new and intimidating experience, we often lash out. When our security or beliefs are tested, or when circumstances challenge us to change our way of thinking, we go on the offensive. We say something rude, we belittle, we behave inconsiderately. Continue reading

My 2020 Vision

A year from today, may we look back and say, “We’ve made the world a kinder place … together.”

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. I prefer to think about the year ahead and what I hope will be different at its end, and then set some intentions to help bring about that change. That’s how this blog was born five years ago, and ultimately how the book, A Year of Living Kindly, came into being.

This year, as I ponder the year ahead, I think about our planet, our values, and our interactions with one another. I think about the epidemic of incivility now swirling around us, and the pandemic it will likely become in the contentious months ahead.

I want to “be the change,” as Gandhi counseled. To do that, I’m recognizing that I need to step up my kindness. I need to: Continue reading

The Writer as Wounded Healer

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.  What a man can be, he must be.” (Abraham Maslow)

Attribution: Donna CameronI have collected quotations for many years—inspirational quotes, humorous ones, profound, wise, and enigmatic ones. Hundreds of them are tacked onto cork board that lines one wall of my home office. Many are yellowed with age or so faded that I can barely read them. I often find myself standing in front of this assemblage and reacquainting myself with wise thinkers and thoughts, with ahas that speak directly to the heart of an attentive life. It’s always a pleasure to find a new quote and squeeze it onto the wall. There will be no Marie Kondo-ing of this space.

One quote that found me a couple of years ago, and was also immediately given both wall space and a spot on my writing desk, is by Sean Thomas Dougherty:

“Right now, there is someone out there with a wound in the exact shape of your words.”

…keep on reading…

Kindness Withheld is Kindness Lost Forever

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.” (Moliere)

Attribution: Donna CameronLast week, I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference about kindness in business—its benefits to the workplace, to the bottom-line, and to both business owners and employees. It was a receptive group and we had a lot of fun (well, at least I did!). Afterward, a number of people came up to me to share their stories of kindness—kindnesses extended, kindnesses received, and kindnesses witnessed. There were stories of roadside assistance, found wallets, Starbucks’ gift cards, and neighborly sharing.

I was struck once again by a notion that is both obvious and subtle: Most acts of kindness are easy to do, but they’re also just as easy not to do.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea as either gobbledygook or a statement of the glaringly obvious, but to my simple brain, it’s also somewhat profound.

Nobody’s ever going to know or notice if you don’t stop to assist someone whose car is stuck in the snow. Or if you don’t offer to help someone who’s struggling to carry a heavy load. Or if you don’t stop to chat with the homeless guy and hand him a couple of bucks. Nobody’s likely to comment on its absence if you don’t smile, or if you don’t speak some words of appreciation to the waiter or the cashier. What we don’t do is lost forever and the potential it held to begin never-ending ripples of kindness is lost to the world. Who knows where those ripples might have reached and what difference they might have made?

I wonder if that’s why some people pooh-pooh kindness as feeble and inconsequential. How could anything as simple as smiling, holding a door, or offering a compliment make any difference in a world where countries are on the brink of war, where city streets could erupt in violence at any moment, and where inequality and mistrust divide us every which way?

I am reminded of the many times in my life when I was buoyed by a kind word or inspired to be a better me after witnessing the kindness of others. I can also recall times when I held back—afraid of how my words might be received, or reluctant to draw attention to myself. The ease of not doing or not saying offered me a safe haven…but at what cost?

Even this post, describing the simplicity of kindness and the allure of inertia, offers a similar choice. No one would ever know if I hit delete, fearful that the inanity of the obvious will be received with a roll of the eyes or a sigh of impatience. But, if I put it out there, maybe one person (maybe me!) will choose to extend a kindness they might otherwise have allowed to slip away. And who knows where that could lead?

Only one way to find out….

“If you want to be a rebel, be kind.” (Pancho Ramos Stierle)

 

 

Hello In There, Hello…

“The saddest thing about old age is our idea of it.” (Marty Rubin)

attribution: Donna CameronOne of the common insights expressed by elderly people is that with age comes invisibility. In a Psychology Today blog post, psychiatrist Tamara McClintock Greenberg noted that many of her elderly patients describe feeling invisible as they shop or stroll or ride a bus. Once aware of that impression, she began to notice it herself: “And then it happened to me. I realized that when I walk down the street, younger people simply don’t see me.” She explains it thus:We live in a youth-fixated culture where people are afraid to age and to be vulnerable to growing older; where ideals about attractiveness are oriented around those with young, healthy bodies.”

How sad that people who have worked, and struggled, and contributed all their lives often fade from view, perceived—if at all—as insignificant and irrelevant. Still very much alive, they disappear like phantoms, forgotten and alone.

Hello In There” was a beautiful song from John Prine’s first album in 1971 (this YouTube version is accompanied by fantastic photos). It piercingly describes the loneliness of old age. I was touched by it when I first heard it in my teens; today, its powerful refrain strikes much closer to home:

You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”

If a kindness movement is going to take root and grow, it must encompass everyone, including our oldest and most invisible citizens. That means changing many prevailing attitudes toward aging and the aged.

Recently, I’ve come across stories that have illustrated the loneliness many elderly people experience, and kindnesses extended to them:

  • Officers in Manchester, England, responded to a call for help from Doris Thomson, assuming that either she or her 95-year-old husband, Fred, had fallen or injured themselves. What they found, though, was that Doris and Fred “were simply lonely and wanted to share a chat and, perhaps a cup of tea with someone.” The responding officers recognized the more subtle facets of their job as protectors of the public; they brewed a pot of tea and sat down to chat with the elderly couple. The two officers later faced some criticism for “wasting time,” but they stood by their decision to provide comfort during a time of need. Fortunately, their act of kindness was perceived by many to have been an appropriate and splendid deed.
  • Earlier this month, police in Rome responded to a report of crying coming from an apartment to find an elderly couple who had been “driven to tears through a combination of loneliness and viewing upsetting news reports on TV.” The four responding officers offered companionship—as well as a warm meal. They visited with 84-year-old Jole and her 94-year-old husband, Michele, as they cooked up a meal of pasta for the couple.
  • In another story from England earlier this month, an elderly woman who had fallen while running a bath tried to call her daughter for help, but misdialed and instead reached a BMW dealership a few miles from her home. When the manager realized what had happened he had his receptionist stay on the phone with the woman while he drove over to help her. He found her front-door unlocked and entered to find her on the floor, with blood on her face, and her tub overflowing. He helped her to a sofa and covered her with a blanket, then waited with her until her family arrived to care for her.
  • And in Hartford, Connecticut, 911 dispatcher Katherine Grady was at the end of her shift when she took a call from an 86-year-old woman, Francis Royer. Francis is disabled and has a heart condition and just wanted to know if there was someone who could help her take her garbage out the next day, as it had been two weeks since she had been able to roll her garbage barrels to the end of her driveway. Grady promised Ms. Royer that she would come over to help the next day, which happened to be her day off. She not only came to take out the garbage, but she stayed to visit and to help dispose of some heavy items and newspapers from Royer’s basement.

The responses to these cries for help are moving and encouraging, but what concerns me most is that very few elderly people who need help will ask for it. They’re proud, they’re afraid, and very often they simply have no one to call. They continue in their isolation, hoping for a knock on the door, a call from a friend or family member, even a smile from a stranger—someone to say to them, “Hello in there, hello.” But they remain invisible.

We can’t turn away from people because they move more slowly, or perhaps no longer hear as well as they once did. Nor can we discount them even if they’re sometimes—or always—confused or frail. Growing old is a condition we cannot ignore or avoid. Sure, we all want to be as healthy and able as possible in our final years, but for some of us that will not be possible, and we need to honor every person for the sum and complexity of who they are and the life they lived.

What goes around comes around. If we teach our children that old people don’t matter, if we condone the invisibility our society confers on the aged, we invite that same experience for ourselves when our time comes, and for our children when it’s their turn. And, most importantly, we discount the value of every life.

Maybe it’s fear that causes us to look away, perhaps discomfort, or obliviousness, but we owe it to our elders to treat them with respect and kindness. For those of us who choose to live a life of kindness, extending kindness to our oldest and frailest companions on this journey is a privilege. There is much we can learn from the oldest members of our society. Let’s appreciate all they have to teach us and give them the respect they deserve.

“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel)