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Given the current state of the world, it is hard to believe that kindness is a virtue valued in every culture. The effects of kindness are so profound that every generation of every society speaks of its vital importance through its sages. In ancient China, Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching and founder of Taoism, told his world, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates Love.” In classical Greece, Plato admonished his fellow citizens to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Much closer to us in time and geography, George Sand, nineteenth century French novelist and essayist, instructed her readers to, “Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” We are all recipients of kindness at one time or another, and each of us knows first hand that kindness is what makes life both meaningful and joyful. With this in mind, I’m suggesting we all develop a Kindness Practice in 2016.
How to Begin a Kindness Practice
Reflecting on acts of kindness that have made our lives richer, now, in the present, and when we were children or younger adults, is an effective place to begin a Kindness Practice. Re-experiencing our feelings of gratitude opens our hearts to the possibility of bringing similar joy to others. Many of us have little idea of the good we do in the world; feeling the good others do and have done to us helps to remind us of our own considerable powers of loving kindness.
Recently I felt the need to connect with a young man in one of my classes. Before I asked to speak with him, I noticed a subtle hostility in his class responses and in his written work. I wasn’t sure what was happening with him, but my instincts told me I should find out. My instincts had been refined by my own personal experience with anger during my student days, an emotion that surfaced whenever I felt challenged by an assignment I wasn’t sure I understood or could complete to the required standard. In a quiet moment, my professor asked about my concerns regarding the assignment and his kind tone made it possible for me to tell him of my lack of understanding. He explained the assignment in an entirely different way, and as he did, I felt my anger transform into an eagerness to tackle what had been asked of us.
That encounter could have gone an entirely different way. My prof could have said nothing at all to me, or something humiliating. Instead, he spoke to me with kindness regarding my obvious distress and in doing so, allowed me to create a sense memory that informed my exchange with my own student many years later. In similar fashion, I took my student aside and did what I could to reinterpret the assignment that had provoked his distress – something we confuse far too easily with hostility and petulance. He too experienced the relief kindness so often brings, and from that moment on became one of the most astute participants in the class.
Paying Kindness Forward
I have no doubt that my professor’s sensitivity to me helped me to develop sensitivity toward my own students. His act of kindness made it possible for me to complete the assignment with confidence and to succeed in moving forward with my studies. He might have interpreted my anger as obnoxiousness or he might have ignored it altogether. Neither would have helped me as a learner or as a teacher. As it was, his response sent out a ripple of kindness that has been influencing me and others for more than five decades.
Clients often tell me that the hardest emotion for them to transform is the feeling that others are having an easier time than they are. Once we have the kindness conversation and they remember just a fraction of the many acts of kindness they’ve experienced, they shift their focus to how they can help their own clients and colleagues move forward in life. This shift is fueled by a vitally important insight into their importance to others. Feelings of insignificance or failure disappear as they re-experience the feelings of joy that result from others’ kindness toward them. Paying these acts of kindness forward becomes a cause rather than a challenge, and, consequently, their own lives take on the additional purpose of increasing kindness in the world.
Understanding Our Importance to Others
It is sad but true that few of us have any idea of our importance to others. I think this may be one of the reasons why the film It’s a Wonderful Life is still a beacon of hope during the winter holiday season. George Bailey learns through Clarence Oddbody, his Guardian Angel, how much poorer his community would have been had George never been born. In the retrospective of his life that he is privileged to witness, George sees how his small and large acts of kindness have made a profound difference in Bedford Falls; in fact, he learns that without him the town would have become Pottersville, a name synonymous with big banking and the triumph of greed over caring human relationships.
Recently, I heard Maria Popova (see her marvelous work at (https://www.brainpickings.org/) describe cynicism as the “sewage” of the soul. We all have those dark moments of doubt regarding our ability to change the world for the better. But these are fleeting if we do not feed them with our own and others’ uncritical, negative views of the world. When our cynicism/sewage is flushed out with practices such as EFT and meditation, practices that lead us to experience the balanced reality that is the truth of the world, our sense of purpose and meaningful connection to others is apparent. Listening to our better Angels, those voices such as Popova’s who remind us of the best of human kind, predisposes us to greater and greater acts of kindness toward others and toward ourselves. Learning what constitutes a reasonable work schedule, making time for sleep, for down time, and for silence, reconnecting with the natural world every day, and eating, in Michael Pollan’s phrase, “whole foods, not too much” each day are indispensable acts of kindness toward the Self that fuel a loving kindness revolution that expands outward exponentially.
Another of our better Angels, Maya Angelou, speaks of kindness when it is translated into action: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time. And always one more time.” Each time we choose love over all the other possible reasons for our presence in the world, we are increasing the world’s store of kindness. If you doubt the value of kindness, flush your doubt away with a robust round of EFT (if you need help with this flushing process, find a life coach who knows the importance of promoting kindness and joy in the world.) And when you are finished with your flushing process, go out into the world to do your work, with kindness, with love. We will all be the better for committing to a Kindness Practice. Let us do so with joy and with love.
Until next week
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-533-9277
Jane is a Learning Coach specializing in neutralizing cultural age, gender, and race constructs to support learners of every age. To engage her coaching services, please contact Jane by phone (802) 533-9277 or email, email@example.com. Be sure to put Coaching Query in the subject line.