November 19, 2014

We are in Desperate Need of Kindness. {George Saunders Video}

Photo: Jennifer via Flickr.

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” George Saunders

Kindness isn’t sexy.

It’s not newsworthy.

So, I admire the fact that George Saunders based his entire convocation address for Syracuse University around the theme of kindness earlier this year.

We are a society—a world—in dire need of kindness.

In these times of anonymous, ugly venom being spewed behind the cloak of a keyboard; of “news” shows that race each other to the lowest common denominator; of politics that rarely show respect much less civility or kindness; of kids cyber-bullying each other because they feel empowered to post, tweet or text nasty stuff they would never say to a person’s face, a reminder of the importance of kindness—the absolute necessity of kindness—is more important than ever.

In yoga, the first yama, or guideline for ethical living, is ahimsa, meaning non-violence. It is the foundation of all yoga philosophy and practice.

It is somewhat easy to dismiss the concept of ahimsa by declaring that we haven’t murdered anyone or hit anyone. But ahimsa is far deeper than that. It is a way of being, of living, not only in relation to the world but to ourselves.

Do we listen to the petty, mean voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough?

Aren’t thin enough?

Pretty enough?

Rich enough?

That we just aren’t enough?

That is not ahimsa.

We are not being kind to ourselves.

Kindness is like that oxygen mask that drops in a plane. We need to practice on ourselves in order to give it to others.

Some kindness tips:

1. Comparions suck.

They just do. So don’t compare. There’s always somebody better and worse off than us. There will be somebody who can rock that back bend and someone who can’t. Does it matter? The answer is: it really doesn’t. At all.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” 

2. Everyone has a story.

So, that store clerk was kind of rude. Maybe she was having a bad day. We all do. Maybe her husband lost his job or her boyfriend dumped her or her kid is sick. Or maybe she just hates her job and resents it. The truth is, we don’t know. And, again, does it matter?

Maybe a kind word or smile would make a difference to her. And, if not, it will make a difference to us. Would I rather walk around all day complaining about the rude girl at the grocery store or send her blessings and go on my way? Option one weighs me down, the other, lightens my mood and spirit. I’ll take the second option.

3. Mindfulness, please.

Staying present allows us to be, well, present. Present to what is actually happening instead of present to what we think, assume or fear is happening. Mindfulness allows us to stay out of the tangled web of our own stories. We feel what is happening in our bodies so that grounds us in the moment.

We feel the emotions and we (try to) let them go. We practice kindness with ourselves. We let ourselves feel angry or bitter or sad because we are human and shit happens.

4. Meditation.

I’ve resisted meditation for years. Seriously, years. But now that I’ve experienced what a regular meditation practice brings to my life, well, I’m a convert. When I meditate regularly I make friends with my mind. I am able to witness and accept all of me. So, I am less likely to project my crap onto others which means I am less likely to be unkind. I am more kind to others and myself since this acceptance and compassion ripples out from my practice, off my cushion and into the world.

It all sounds so pollyanna-ish, so simple, I know. But as George Saunders says:

“Who in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”

George Saunders

Yes, we could do worse. So, let’s try to be kinder. To ourselves, to our loved ones, to our community, to those we disagree with, to those who annoy us, to friends, to strangers, to the world without and the world within each of us.

Kindness does matter.


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Author: Kim Haas

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Jennifer via Flickr.

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