9 Barriers to Kindness

“I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” (William Penn)

kindness highlightedWhen things get out of hand, we all have different ways of regaining control of our lives. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I organize.

I need to make a distinction between organizing and cleaning: I don’t clean, my husband will be the first to tell you that, so to prevent him from posting an unflattering—but entirely true—description of just what a slob I am, I will repeat: I do not clean, I rarely straighten, I tend to be entirely oblivious to clutter. I’m not proud of that fact, but sadly, it’s absolutely true.

However, when I am besieged by deadlines and overcome by the sheer volume of tasks and responsibilities facing me, I get busy organizing. Once I have organized my life, I feel like I am back in control and able to tackle all of my obligations steadily and timely—and even enjoy doing them.

My first step in organizing is to make a list, or, more accurately, multiple lists. I make lists of everything I need to do and then sub-lists of the various steps to doing them. I make lists of things I need to remember. I make chronological lists, shopping lists, task lists … and when things get truly overwhelming, I make a list of lists I need to make. That is the point I have reached this week.

It was in this list-making frenzy that I realized I haven’t made many lists related to kindness. Maybe I hadn’t yet reached the stress-level needed for that. Fortunately, the universe has conspired to remedy that, and kindness has joined the ranks of lists that I employ to organize and bring order to my life.

The first list I sat down to write enumerates the barriers to kindness—the things that get in the way of our being kind or compassionate. I’ve identified nine factors that might keep us from being our best self. They are in no particular order, but the first is probably the biggest:

Fear – I could write an entire post just about fear (oh, in fact I did), but to condense it here, there’s a smorgasbord of fears to choose from:

  • Fear of Rejection – the gift of our kindness might be misunderstood or spurned. Ouch!
  • Fear of Embarrassment – what if I extend kindness clumsily and look foolish? Ouch, again!
  • Fear of Judgment – people will say I’m weak or maybe gullible. More ouch.

Better to do nothing than to risk the vulnerability…or is it? Part of the solution to dealing with fear is to focus not on the bad things that might happen but on the good outcomes you are seeking to bring forth. That’s a sure way to banish fear.

Laziness and Inertia – While there are certainly kind actions we can take that don’t require a lot of energy (a smile, a compliment, a door held open), many kindnesses do require that we extend ourselves. They require that we get off our butts, go out of our way, and sometimes even leave our comfort zones. Usually it’s just a matter of taking the first step and then our intentions take over and kindness ensues. But the hurdle is that first step and overcoming the inertia to take it.

Indifference – The antithesis of kindness, indifference is a barrier to living a kind life. One cannot be kind if caring is absent; one cannot be kind if one is willing to shrug and say, “It’s not my problem.” Indifference may be how we protect ourselves from strong feelings, from the caring that moves us to action. It may be comfortable to wallow in indifference, but kindness requires that we stop being a spectator and jump into life.

Entitlement – Sadly, there are many people who see kindness—if they see it at all—as something that can be selective. It’s not as essential to show kindness to the clerk, the cashier, or the homeless person as it is to the VIP who can help one get ahead or feel powerful. There’s an adage that says “a person who is kind to you but rude to the waiter is not a kind person.” It’s so true; selective kindness isn’t kindness, it’s opportunism. Kindness is something we extend to everyone at every opportunity.

Obliviousness – It’s easy to miss opportunities to be kind if we aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around us. We may not notice that there is a person behind us for whom we can hold a door, or that someone needs help carrying their groceries, or that a child is frightened or sad. Too often, we allow technology to take precedence over human connection—we are constantly absorbed in our hand-held devices, oblivious to the life around us and the myriad opportunities we have to offer the gift of our kindness. We can even be oblivious to our own need for self-care—unaware that we have depleted our energy and need to engage in some personal renewal if we want to be able to care for others. Paying attention to our lives is easier said than done, but it’s one of the essential elements of a kind life.

Habit – If we are in the habit of saying no, it’s hard to say yes—to someone who asks for assistance, for our time, or for a dollar or two to help them make it through the day. Of course, we can’t say yes to everything or everyone, but whichever answer we choose should come out of conscious conviction, rather than robotic routine.

Not enough timeIt takes time to be kind—to pause and think about what the kind response is, to offer assistance knowing that it might delay us from our tightly-packed schedule, to connect on a human level with the people we encounter throughout the day. It even takes time to be kind to ourselves—an essential quality to being able to extend kindness to others. In the face of so much hurrying, it helps me to remind myself that my number-one job is kindness; all else comes second.

ImpatienceImpatience might be a subset of feeling one doesn’t have enough time, but it’s more than that. We may have all the time in the world and still be impatient with someone who lacks skill or understanding in something. It’s just easier to roll our eyes and do it ourselves than to extend the kindness—the patience—to teach, or coach, or watch while someone fumbles or stumbles. Offering genuine patience is always a kindness.

FatigueResearch has shown that when we’re over-tired we’re not only more prone to accidents, have difficulty learning, and feel stressed, but we are also more likely to commit unethical or unkind acts. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value sleep more than ever—and knowing that it helps make me kinder just makes my bed even warmer and cozier.

Having made a list, I already feel better. No OCD tendencies here. Have I left anything out? When you miss an opportunity to be kind, can you ascribe it to any of the above, or are there other reasons?

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” (Albert Schweitzer)

Kindness Requires Courage: Part 2 of an Interview with Sandra Ford Walston

“It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” (Mark Twain)

Attribution: Donna Cameron

Wallace Falls, August 2015

Last week I posted Part 1 of my interview with Sandra Ford Walston, who is internationally known as The Courage Expert. Sandra is an author, speaker, human potential consultant, and courage coach. In this year of living kindly I’ve seen countless times that a life of kindness often requires courage. There are times when kind actions make us vulnerable, or when our kindness is rejected or even ridiculed. Sometimes kindness means standing up to a bully or acting contrary to what is expected of us. Sometimes it means speaking up, and sometimes remaining silent. Courage is required if we are to overcome all of those risks and extend the kindness that comes from our most authentic self.

If you missed last week’s introduction to Sandra Ford Walston and her work on courage, you can read it here. Now, we pick up where we left off…

YOLK: It’s clear from your work that it takes courage to live with intentionality every day, or to say or do something that may be counter to prevailing attitudes or behaviors. It takes courage to live authentically and be willing to put yourself out there. How can one claim their courage or perhaps reinforce it?

SFW: I don’t think you can ever have too much courage—and I don’t mean being foolhardy. I know when my reservoir is low. Most people will change when the pain of staying in the old pattern is greater than the pain of change. But, why go through so much suffering? There is choice: you can choose to build and draw from a reservoir of courage. This supports you to stand up for the self you know to be you. The choice is yours and it starts with whether you will choose to give yourself permission to claim your individual courage, and to be conscious about your spirit’s dignity and true essence. This is not found in Business 101! You know when you’ve stayed on a job far too long because it’s bleeding your heart, not feeding your spirit. When you choose to design new choices you limit the residual of regret. The more you exercise your courage, the more courage you will have.

YOLK: Could you talk a bit about vulnerability? I’ve seen that true kindness often requires us to reveal our most vulnerable self. You’ve expressed a similar connection between vulnerability and courage.

SFW: Self-awareness offers us opportunities for an honest assessment of our vulnerabilities. We discover that vulnerability comes in many forms, such as acknowledging our unhappiness, learning to move on through calamitous events, and learning not to deny or manipulate failures or mistakes. The more intense the circumstances, the more risky it seems to admit our vulnerabilities—especially in the context of work—but trying to manipulate these circumstances serves only the ego’s need to feel in control and generally backfires. Few people have the courage to reveal vulnerability, acknowledge it and overcome it.

Revealing vulnerability demonstrates maturity in the development of your true self and demonstrates great courage. It takes enormous courage to forego manipulation.

YOLK: What are some of the ways we can move through our vulnerability and claim our courage?

SFW: With self-awareness, we begin to notice our personal forms of manipulation—from bullying, to indifference, to passive aggressive behaviors. Facing a decisive moment provides an opportunity to reveal vulnerability. Do you confess your shortcomings and missteps? For example, if you lack knowledge about a topic, do you respond in a deceptive manner that keeps your ego intact? The honest response would be to reveal your vulnerability by admitting that you do not know the answer. Confessing is good for the spirit when done in a timely manner and with positive intent. The process helps us face the truth. We take responsibility for our lives and our actions.

Revealing vulnerability allows our best lights to shine. Where our ego mentality insists that vulnerability is a sign of weakness and must be hidden, the deeper truth is that revealing our vulnerability represents integrity and conveys our true identity. The alternative—hiding our mistakes and weaknesses and pretending to be what we are not—can only be accomplished through manipulation, which undermines our integrity, breeds distrust and stifles our true “heart and spirit” identity. As poet e.e. cummings wrote, “It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”

In summary, vulnerability supports self-realization, underscoring a human being’s essence—the true Self. Far from being a bad thing, vulnerability leads us to our most authentic self.

YOLK: I know you’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years in your research about courage. Has kindness emerged for you as a courage issue?

SFW: Indirectly…. I often use a phrase that reveals a higher integral level of courage consciousness: “where courage meets grace.” I would say that this intersection of courage and grace requires an inbred kindness. I also detect kindness in courage advocacy, such as speaking up on someone’s behalf or, or saying kind words about someone to set the tone for receptivity. Kindness shows up when you’re “a word en-courager.” A word en-courager boosts people rather than busts people. If you think of a list of virtues such as compassion, grace, tolerance or humility, I feel they all fall under courage, since it means “heart and spirit” or coming from your true Self. Hence, if I am centered in my courage I will naturally display kindness.

YOLK: You’ve also written about the epidemic of incivility and discourtesy in modern society. About how the manners that were instilled in so many of us—by our parents and our teachers—seem to be disappearing. Why do you think that is, and do you see any role for courage in bringing back civility?

SFW: Courage and civility are essential to foster good citizenship. It often seems that common courtesy and simple manners have gone the way of one-speed bicycles and black-and-white TVs. Regaining those niceties could do a lot toward redefining the workplace environment as a place of willing and generous productivity. Those of us who were raised with manners have gotten lazy. In our laziness, we’ve raised a second generation of individuals who are simply and often sincerely ignorant of such values as respect for others, kindness, generosity, and common decency, such as holding the door open for the person following you. These are not dated, “old fogey” concepts. They take virtually no additional time or energy, and their returns are great.

Broadening this issue, we find ourselves at the heart of moral courage which I define as an attitude of willingness to choose differently in spite of personal hardship or prevailing attitudes. It requires a higher level of integrity than required for the easy alternative. Moral courage is like a compass. If we stay on-course, we will get to our desired destination. But if we are even one degree off-course, we will eventually find ourselves far from where we wanted to be.

YOLK: What would you say to someone who would like to increase their capacity for courage, or claim the courage that often gets stuck inside? Or to a parent who wants to help their child grow up confident in their courage?

SFW: Some of the things we’ve talked about already, such as being mindful and courage-centered, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Make use of the Source Wheel; place it somewhere prominent where you can see it and be reminded of the energies and actions of courage.

I also encourage people to support their courage with some form of meditation. Meditation is the protective shelter from the ego’s storms. It helps us to become more centered and more able to recognize when and how to claim our courage.

To a parent I’d say start using the word courage with your kids. Talk about what courage means and let them talk about and claim their courage. We need to help our kids grow up comfortable in their courage and able to see it in others. My nine-year-old niece and I talk about courage. She was just telling me how it takes courage to speak up and to refuse to engage in saying unkind things about other girls. She’s going to be a courageous woman.

YOLK: Any last words for us?

SFW: In my coaching I often ask my clients two questions. I’ll pose them here:

  1. Are you willing to give yourself permission to claim your courage? This is something that only you can do for yourself.
  2. What action would you do right now if you had unlimited courage?

YOLK: Those are great questions, and ones we can ask ourselves over and over. Sandra Ford Walston, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your courage expertise with us. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” (Anaïs Nin)

Kindness and Vulnerability

“A gift is like a seed; it is not an impressive thing. It is what can grow from the seed that is impressive. If we wait until our seed becomes a tree before we offer it, we will wait and wait, and the seed will die from lack of planting…. The miracle is not just the gift; the miracle is in the offering, for if we do not offer, who will?” (Wayne Muller)

Attribution: Donna CameronPeriodically, the universe sends me a message. It’s not some disembodied James Earl Jones voice, or a bolt of lightning that rattles my foundation; more often than not, it’s a barely perceptible tap on my shoulder that says, “Pay attention here.”

I was at a conference last week where I happened to overhear two people talking about vulnerability and about Brené Brown’s TED talk on the subject. Then, last night, I was reading an article in a writer’s magazine that spoke of the writer’s need to be vulnerable, and also referred to Brené Brown’s TED talk. I felt that tap on my shoulder and heard that inner whisper, “Pay attention.”

The wonderful and sometimes dreadful thing about modern life is that we can easily and instantly access almost anything. Within seconds and a few keystrokes on Google, I was watching Dr. Brown’s 2010 talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

Wow! If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time, I promise you. This delightful and insightful talk explored a trait that whole-hearted people share: vulnerability. It described the willingness we must have to “allow ourselves to be seen,” with all our imperfections, in order to fully embrace our lives.

I can’t do justice to her words. You want to hear them first-hand. Really.

Whether we’re committing to love, or art, or business, or kindness, we must have the courage to do it whole-heartedly, with full awareness that there will always be those who find us lacking. In a way, knowing that frees us—if we can just embrace our vulnerability—for if we stop trying to please everyone, we can focus on being who we were meant to be. And isn’t that all life is asking of us?

Of course, this talk about vulnerability got me to thinking about kindness, and the connection between kindness and vulnerability. I’ve talked before about the difference between being kind and being nice. I don’t think “nice” requires us to be vulnerable. I can be nice without risk, and without exposing too much of myself. I can be nice without making a connection, or without really caring whether or not you benefit from the encounter. Nice, while often pleasant, doesn’t require sincerity or commitment.

To me, “kind” is very different. Kind means connecting; it means being conscious and intentional about the impact my words or actions may have; it means expending energy and effort and caring about the outcome. It also means suspending judgments and accepting people as they are. Kind can be messy and may take me to places where I am awkward, clumsy, and tongue-tied. Kindness requires me to take a risk. Kindness requires me to be vulnerable.

Since starting this year of living kindly, I have tried to make a conscious effort to do things kindly that I once may have done nicely. Outwardly, there’s probably not a lot of difference. In the past, if I chose to give a dollar or two to someone who asked me for money, I would do so quickly, and hurry on, sometimes wondering if the person was really in need, or if they were just lazy and saw me as an easy mark. Now, I try to pause and exchange a few words, make eye-contact, and wish them well. In most cases—though not all—I feel a connection between me and the person I am engaged with. For a brief time, we are both vulnerable, and it feels good. I don’t worry about whether their need is genuine or whether I am being a schmuck; I just hope in some way I am helping.

There is even a vulnerability to writing about kindness and to inviting people to read my periodic musings. Am I saying too much about myself? Too little? Am I pontificating (God, I hope not!)? Has it all been said before and said better? Am I missing the point entirely?

If I allow myself to be vulnerable, the answer is it doesn’t matter. As Brené Brown eloquently explains, connection is why we’re all here, sharing this planet, and it’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. To make that deep connection, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. That means having the courage to be imperfect, to expose our flaws, and the willingness to be vulnerable.

Living our most authentic life, whatever that means to each of us—for me it’s choosing kindness—requires that we let go of our shield and lower our guard, and that we embrace our flaws and our vulnerability. It’s scary, but, oh, the rewards of living an authentic life are beyond measure!

“Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” (Jean Vanier)

[Before I close, I want to encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s TED talk. I promise it’s worth 20 minutes of your life—maybe it’s even a message from the universe to you.]