On the bookshelf in my office, a small pillow sits on the ledge. Two words appear on it: Kindness Matters. I believe in these words, even though I stumble sometimes in practicing this philosophy.
When do I slip? All the time. Judging a situation without knowing the full story, gossiping about someone, complaining about something that is inconsequential – these are all examples of areas that really test my ability to infuse kindness. On a more global scale, I don’t think about others enough. I am not serving lunches at the soup kitchen or dedicating my Saturdays to helping out at the homeless shelter. My world view is narrow. It concerns my family and those that are directly connected to me. What suffers? The ability to really interject kindness into my everyday world.
Why is it so difficult to be kind? George Saunders lists some of the reasons in his recent commencement speech (Please read it. You will not regret it.) He states that, “Each one of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); 2) we’re separate from the Universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds, and you know, other people), and (3) we are permanent (death is real, o.k., sure for you, but not for me).”
I know. Intellectually I know better and you know better, but we get caught up in trying to prove our point that we lose track of what really matters. We all are self-involved. We put this trait at the forefront and again, what suffers? Kindness.
The irony is that the sustenance of life exists in connections where we feel affirmed. One kind word can light up a loved one’s world or a stranger’s space. You just don’t know. I am not advocating that we all become Pollyanna’s and compliment everything and everyone and acknowledge that the world is this great utopia. I believe that is superficial and unrealistic. But what I am striving to do in my own life is to remember that what we see is only a fraction of someone’s truth. What we feel, even internally, is only a fraction of our own truth. All of us. Everyone is constantly evolving. We should respect that continuous cycle. As I grow older, I’ve decided I know less about the world and human interactions. What I do know is that those brief glimmers of kindness I’ve received from loved ones and strangers are the moments that endure and renew my belief that we are all connected. Everyone of us. Through are triumphs, sadness, and of course, in-between the swings of our own personal pendulum.
I leave you today with these words by George Saunders. “Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, lead, fall in love, make and lose those fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.”