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?
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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!
So, I bought myself a graduation gift; these really cool gold-plated rings (3 of them) and while I was washing my hands to pray afternoon prayer at the downtown center, I left my rings on the bathroom counter -.- (dummy)… when I got back to work I realized that I forgot them in the bathroom, so on my way home to the C-train, I dropped by the prayer center again and they were gone…. I was confused and angry since the prayer center is where I least expected someone to steal.. but I went on with my life, AND THEN today at Friday Prayer, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said “you left something in the bathroom the last time you came to pray”, she showed me that she kept the rings for me until she saw me again PHEWF! I gave her a BIG hug and a kiss on the cheek.
And as I went back to work with my rings in hand, I gave the second-half of my turkey sandwich to two men sitting under the bridge.
Morale of the story: Being kind shouldn’t actually depend on experiencing kindness in your own life but I do really believe that one act of kindness slightly nudges another
Have a lovely Saturday everyone!
The Oatmeal has done a wonderful job of encouraging kindness:
When I face any kind of discouragement, I hope that this can inspire me to be kind. Sometimes thinks don’t turn out OK, sometimes they do. I may not be able to save the world, but today I’m going to try to be the best that I can be by giving what I can reasonably give to those around me.
I often want to change the world. I want to be big and important and make dramatic improvements to the world around me, maybe I will, maybe I won’t. I have no power over the influence that I actually wield.
I may not be happy with my situation, but I can try to be happy with myself in my situation.
This article is worth a read. It helps explain a persistent feeling I’ve had of being unable to relate to people on the other side of the political spectrum. It felt like we were living in completely different worlds. Turns out, we are.
How We Broke Democracy
I was in an absolutely terrible mood because I needed to get a recalled air bag in my car fixed, along with a regular oil change, and the customer service rep thought it would be over three hours. And I was trapped at the car dealership with a baby. The rep got me out in less than an hour and a half, saying that she’s a mom too and did what she could to make it fast. I’m not sure how much effort pushing my repair through cost her, but she had no real incentive beyond improving my day (although of course I’ve contacted her manager to praise her kindness). I’m hoping to find a way to pay that kindness forward today.
I did not expect to find kindness at the car dealership; I suppose it’s possible wherever kind people are.
I almost didn’t post this because it seems lame, but thinking that sharing kindness is lame is part of the problem. I was at the grocery store with the baby, in a long line, when an employee told the woman behind me that he was opening another register. She started to follow, then turned to me and said, “I’m sure you want to get the baby home. Why don’t you go on ahead of me?” And that made a difference to me today.