Tag Archives: kindness

A New Year to Be Kind: Everyday Magic, Day 885

I know the Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness, but it took a while for this truth to catch up with me. As I get older, it overtakes me: intelligence, creativity, initiative, even happiness and many other qualities, without kindness, are hollow at best, dangerous at worse.

While I am stripped and spotted with many flaws, the flaw I’m most ashamed of is when I’m unkind, that is, when I catch such moments. It’s easy enough to see when I lose my temper (mostly catalyzed by stuff with family, or any headline involving he-who-will-not-be-named-but-will-in-inaugrated-soon). But there’s also those micro-aggression moments when I’m dismissive or simply not aware of someone or something, and striving to be kinder means getting realer so I can do less harm in this world.

There’s also the issue of balance and boundaries. Sometimes I struggle with what the kind thing is to do when I’m struggling to take care of myself (an essential foundation for kindness). As an Olympic gold ribbon champion of overfunctioning, trying to decide how to be kind can stop me in my tracks, and often, there’s no clear answer. I breathe, and try to choose wisely, which inevitably leads me toward a hot bath before I leave the house, do the task, make the call…..or not. Being kind to my young adult children has a whole lot to do with doing less for them and conveying how much I know (or desperately hope) they will find their own best answers (although I often trip into offering more than enough advice).

There’s also what I label in my little head as “black hole people” who are so damaged and hurting that they need — or seem to need — every ounce of attention possible. As a former black hole person (hello, early 20s!), I can relate, but I know how being kind entails sustaining ourselves, finding and holding healthy boundaries (confusing since those fences have a way of moving), and in the whole complex enterprise, being kind.

There’s also the very quiet opportunities for kindness as many sages note when encountering someone who can do nothing to benefit you. I’ve failed at this infinite times, yet striving toward kindness means looking at what the moment offers. Do I let the person in a rush get in front of me at the food co-op? Do I listen to someone I hardly know tell me a long story when I’m tired and just want more pita and hummus at the party? Yup, it’s back to boundaries here, but kind ones communicated without an edge in my voice.

Falling out of balance seems to me to be one of the leading causes of jerk-aholism. I’ve noticed for years that with organizations I’m part of, when someone acts seemingly cruel and mean, it’s almost always because that someone is burnt out, exhausted from working without adequate support or recognition, running scared, and/or too isolated to see the ramifications of bad actions. The same is true for me when I’m unkind, and given how life has a habit of throwing more at us than we can deal with at times, it’s inevitable that despite my best intentions, I will screw up again and again. I’ll land on the floor where I’ll need to cultivate a bit more kindness toward myself for failing, then get up again.

Being kind is a state of being: it’s embodied, and we feel it in our bones and organs (just as cruelty can feel like a kick in the stomach). When my heart is wrapping around another’s heartbreak, I carry a visceral sense of sorrow and yearning. It’s not easy. It can be tiring too, but what else are we here for? I think of being at Aaron’s memorial service (see previous post) a few days ago, and how all of us were held together in the active love a community can make when holding together the impossible. We cried at how he died. We laughed at stories of his kamikaze skiing. We hugged on another. It was a kindness to have been there (to have gone, to have been so welcomed): a door open into the ultimate meaning of belonging and purpose. It’s a gift to be part of collective kindness.

And it’s a gift to practice kindness alone and with others, in the light and in the dark, and in the kindly-emerging one-of-a-kind present.

The Complexity of Kindness: Everyday Magic, Day 511

“It’s because you’re trying to be a good person,” a friend told me when I said I must have been an idiot to call back someone looking for a dog who sounded like the one we just rescued. Since Shay, our new dog, was clearly not taken care of, would I be putting my dog at risk of re-capture by returning the phone call from someone looking desperately for a chocolate lab? But I was trying to be a good person, or more accurately, kind, just in case this was our dog’s previous owners, and something awful kept him from caring for their dog. In general, I do try to act according to what the kind thing might be (although I have been known to divide desserts a bit in my favor).

I’ve been thinking about kindness because, in the last two weeks, in two situations of finding myself at the receiving end of someone’s anger, I couldn’t tell what a kind response might be. One time I walked away; another, I listened. One situation resolved in a hug; another didn’t, but for both, I struggled over what kindness could mean.

By kindness, I don’t mean niceness. Being nice, while pleasant enough, seems more about social, well, niceties: trying to please someone or avoid conflict, and then acting with kindness. Nice is far more general and abstract, while kindness is so much about the particulars. For example, it wouldn’t be kind to say nothing while your best friend gets into a car after drinking too much champagne. You might be acting nice, but not kind.

Kindness can mean setting limits with kids or dogs, cleaning the whole kitchen as a gift for someone, not cleaning the whole kitchen so someone can figure out his/her own relationship to the task, going to sleep early to rest a worn body or staying up late with a heartbroken pal. Kindness is all about the moment, and what action, words, thoughts intentions best manifest an open and loving heart.

In other words, I sometimes have no idea how to be kind. Is pushing my body in yoga kind or cruel? Depends on the moment. Is listening to a friend expound on his or her co-dependent behavior compassionate or enabling? Depends on the situation. Is standing up and yelling with righteous anger over an environmental disaster kind? It could be.

Then again, my answers to these examples come from my own judgments on what is helpful and hurtful in the world, and what do I know? Not much according to people I’ve screwed up with or who think I screwed up big time. This is all to say that striving for kindness means failing at it on occasion, but that shouldn’t stop me or you or any of us. Honing our words and deeds on kindness could well be the road to living with integrity and meaning.

As for the people who called about the missing dog, I called them twice: once to say that I did find a dog but there were issues, he’s legally ours, and they should call if this dog is theirs so we can talk. The second time was after I separated out my own dog separation anxiety and actually did some research, enough to discover the phone number correlated with a missing dog ad about another dog than ours.

The second phone call was one of kindness, which is easier to locate when talking with people with a broken heart. “I’m so sorry you lost your dog, and I’ll be thinking of you and wishing for him to come back to you.” The man at the other end thanked me, talked about how much he loved his dog, and I listened.

 

Remembering the Six Who Died in Tucson, and Sending Peace: Everyday Magic, Day 176

I sit in a comfortable chair, wearing cuddle-duds and yoga clothing, my feet stretched out and the windows I’m facing full of gently-falling snow and a tree of cardinals. All this comfort and peace, all this beauty, and I cannot help but to want to share it with those who need it most at this time, particularly the families of the six people killed in Tucson two days ago. As I read their stories on various sites, I’m reminded again how everyone has a fascinating life, and most of us — in spite of the language of hatred — have lives infused with kindness. I’m also moved by how diverse these people were.

I’m taking this morning to learn about them, and to wish their families, friends and communities all manner of comfort, beauty and peace.

Gabe Zimmerman, 30, Rep. Gifford’s aide, oversaw thousands of Gifford’s constituents’ cases, his whole job focused on helping people. He worked so hard, in fact, that a revelation in his life was falling in love. A friend former co-worker reported that Zimmerman was engaged to a woman he loved deeply.

Dorwan Stoddard, 78, died while protecting his wife, who he told to dive down before he threw himself on top of her to keep her safe. “No one was surprised that he jumped in front to save her,” Katerry Joplin (a church friend) said. “We would’ve been surprised if he hadn’t.” The Stoddards were very active in the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, and although Giffords was Jewish, they didn’t let their different faiths keep them apart.

Phyllis Schneck, 79, recently moved to Tucson to escape the New Jersey winters after she lost her husband of 56 years some years back. She was known for donating her handmade quilts and needlepoint projects to help raise funds for food banks and children’s charities.

Judge John Roll, 63, appointed to the district court by President George W. Bush, left behind three children, five grandchildren, and his wife. One of his friends, Lee Mellor, told KGUN9, “If you’d ever had somebody that you truly believed as a good person, yeah, that would be him. As a prosecutor I worked with him.  He was a very good prosecutor.  As a judge, I don’t think you could have asked for anything better than to have a case tried before him because he was fair.”

Dorothy Morris, 79, was married to a stance Republican, George, who went to the event to talk with Rep. Giffords. He also threw her to the ground and himself on top of her, but it was too late, and he was shot twice (and is not recovering at he hospital). George called Dot his girlfriend or bride, even after over 50 years of marriage.

Christina Taylor Green, 9, who as most of us know was born on 9/11, was passionate about politics, baseball, horseback riding and swimming. A neighbor took her to the event. Her mother told The New York Daily News of Christina, “She was all about helping people and being involved. It’s so tragic. She went to learn today, and then someone with so much hatred in their heart took the lives of innocent people.”