I have actually come to post a few times and been brought up short by a dearth of kindness. Sure, I have other related topics to ponder, but I haven’t felt like I’ve done anything particularly kind recently. A misdirected package gave me an opportunity today, and though it was a tiny thing, it made me happy to do it. The mail carrier dropped off a stack of boxes yesterday, and at the bottom was one meant for a different house up the street. Only the first number in common with my house number, so she must have grabbed it by mistake. So I took the baby on a walk this morning and left the package at the right house with an anonymous note explaining what had happened. Probably I only saved the recipient a small amount of distress and hassle, but it was nice to do nonetheless.
How do you find opportunities for kindness when they don’t simply appear on your doorstep?
I have a tendency to hate my needs. I don’t like admitting that I need things. I believe that admitting that I need things is the same as admitting weakness, or some deficiency in my character.
I do need things, oxygen, water, food, shelter, safety, a feeling of purpose, sleep, rest (not actually the same thing as sleep), recreation, fun (and many more). Each of these is like a gas tank. If I let one run out, then my engine doesn’t run properly. I can, for a little while, borrow from one gas tank or another to tide over the low tank. There’s a cost.
I feel ashamed to have these needs, which is strange, because we all do. Worse, it’s counterproductive because the more I refuse to admit that I have needs, the more my needs control me. It’s a paradox: the more I embrace my needs, the less control they have.
Questions to ponder:
- What are my needs?
- How do I make sure that those needs are met appropriately?
- How does ignoring my needs affect my attitudes towards others?
When I believe that there is ‘enough’, I find it easy to be generous. If I believe that I live in a world of scarcity, then I get miserly.
People have been struggling with this for a long time.
It’s funny how pervasive this is; Jan Brueghel the Younger painted about this in the 17th century. If I believe that there’s enough success to go around, then I celebrate the success of others. If I believe that there is a limit to the number of people who can be successful, then I get paranoid about anyone else (even people I care about) being successful. When someone says something nice about me, my interpretation of what they’ve said seems to depend on how much seems to be riding on them approving of me specifically.
Food, love, safety, feelings of well-being, friendship, professional accomplishment, wealth, the esteem of others; all of these diverse things that I want suffer from this phenomenon.
Questions to ponder:
- Do others notice this response to scarcity in themselves?
- When do I believe that the world is abundant rather than fundamentally scarce?
- How can I make it easier to believe in this abundance?
One of the things I learned as a spiritual exercise years ago was that I should do nice things for people and not get found out. This got me thinking of doing nice things because I wanted to be nice, rather than I want others to think I’m nice. This has been an important distinction.
On the other hand, in trying to write about being nice, and the world seems to really need people focusing on being nice, does this become a reason to tell others when I’ve been nice? In short, if I write about it here, am I still being nice just to be nice? Or does it go back to stroking my ego?
In the process of thinking about setting this up I talked with one of the people here about the need for ‘activist cookies’. I need (and I suspect many other people need) some sort of feedback, or social normalization about kindness. Sure, I should want to do these things even if no one ever finds out, but if I want to encourage society to change to be nicer, then the kindness of others should be shared. Somehow.
So I don’t know what to do. Help?
The Compliment Project
I was just reading about this and wondered what others thought. I think it’s a nice idea, certainly, but I’m wondering about the actual impact. I think seeing one of these would make me smile, and that’s probably enough. But I’m not sure a compliment from an unseen stranger could have a deeper impact beyond an “oh, that’s sweet.” I don’t see it improving my self-esteem or lifting depression. Perhaps the knowledge that there are people out there making selfless gestures to cheer up strangers would be a mood lifter. But I’m inclined to think that a meaningful, personal kindness would be a better use of time and energy as far as actually making a difference.
What do you think? Empty gesture? Meaningful connection? Somewhere in between? How would encountering this change your day/mood/outlook?
One of the big goals that I have is to have an open mind and an open heart. As Anne Lamott said: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
I regret to admit that my knee jerk response to the world is to say that there exists a fundamental right and wrong in the universe. Of course, when I’m wrapped up in myself, this right and wrong corresponds deeply with my own prejudices. I believe in God, and I when I’m not careful I believe that God is exactly like me only bigger and craftier. It becomes easy for me to believe that God has all of my enemies lined up to be taken down. When I’m feeling better I believe in a caring deity. Oddly, believing in a caring deity seems to help me feel better too. I seem to do better with that when I’m in a community.
Focusing on others, like the simple question: “How can I be of service?” Is helpful for me to break out of the mindset of God’s prejudices. Being of service allows me to feel connected with other people. Then the challenge is, how do I remain willing to be of service?
How have you been willing to be of service? How do you keep yourself willing? I’m hoping others can share their experience with this.
Sometimes I have to force myself to accept kindness. Yesterday I was in bed with a nasty cold. My wife offered to make me breakfast. I didn’t want to accept, I wanted to be bigger than that (and I was worried that I didn’t deserve the kindness that was being shown me). I’m coming to understand that graciously accepting the kindness of someone else can itself be kind. Worse, acting out on my belief that I deserve kindness can actually be hard on those around me.
It’s good to be self-sufficient. Today I want to be giving enough to be able to receive, gratefully. I am grateful for the eggs and toast, it was exactly what I needed! I’m glad I was able to accept kindness.
Would people be willing to share how they let themselves accept kindness when they haven’t necessarily felt worthy? Thanks for the comments!