Aldous Huxley wrote the novel “Brave New World.” Toward the end of his life an interviewer asked: “Dr. Huxley, perhaps more than anyone else alive, you have studied the great spiritual traditions of the world. What have you learned?” Huxley replied, “I think we could just be a bit kinder.”
This Saturday, November 13th, is World Kindness Day. And this month is American Thanksgiving, devoted to thankfulness and gratitude. Personally, I think every single day should be kindness day.
When I think of public figures who represent kindness, I think of the Dalai Lama.
“My religion is very simple,” he says. “My religion is kindness.”
The longer I live the more I agree with both Huxley and the Dalai Lama. Nothing is more important than treating each other kindly. And this is not about warm fuzzies. Until kindness becomes a practice it takes mindful work.
Melissa Brodrick wrote a piece in the Harvard Review on The Heart and Science of Kindness. What struck me was the idea that to be kind to others we need to also be kind to ourselves. This is not a new idea and when I first read this in a book by Thich Nhat Hanh I disagreed. Now with my life experiences I have changed my mind.
Melissa gives a good example:
Kindness starts with being kind to yourself
“Ever notice how much better you treat others when you’ve taken care of yourself? In a pressure-filled environment it’s easy to work through lunch, work through dinner, and respond to emails at 11 pm. But the world often rights itself when we take a moment to breathe, assess what we need, and seek it. (Sleep? A relaxed meal, anyone?)
Be kind to yourself when you misstep, which happens to everybody. Setting upon ourselves may cause collateral damage, making others the target of the anger or frustration or disappointment that we really feel about ourselves. It can feel good to direct these upsetting emotions away from ourselves and onto others, but for how long? Really?”
We forget that we are warm blooded humans who need to eat, sleep, move our bodies, laugh, enjoy each other’s company, and have a reason to get up in the morning. If we don’t take care of these basics, we can easily start reacting to the people close to us in an unkind way.
The clerk at the grocery store; the person on the other end of the line who we are unhappy with; the spouse and children with whom we live. These kinds of situation often demand more effort then sending a donation to your favourite charity. Don’t get me wrong, philanthropy is hugely important but let’s just look at our everyday lives and see what we can do there. The opportunities are so vast.
When we do take ourselves into consideration, it doesn’t mean being self-centered and selfish. It means recognizing that we are people too and we will screw up and make mistakes just like everyone else. Throwing sticks at our own heart is not helpful, as the Persian poet Hafiz reminds us.
Where can we start to make this a practice? How about right where we are today.
How about words? Use our words as gifts not as weapons.
What if this is the last sentence to come out of our mouths. Is what we are about to say how we want to be remembered by anyone?
Kindness is a choice. There is a lovely maxim from Naikan that says, “Give and give until you wave goodbye.” Even if you are leaving a marriage, you can try to let kindness guide you.
The gift is best done for the giving sake, not for what we will get back. Otherwise, it is no longer a gift but manipulation.
“The purest form of kindness may have no audience and offer no credit. Kindness to accumulate thanks is self-serving at best.” Melissa Brodrick
And our beloved Dalai Lama has the last word:
Be kind wherever possible. It is always possible.