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November 11, 2021

When Our Acts of Kindness Truly Matter.

“Kindness Matters.”

So reads the bumper sticker that’s made its way from the back of my car to my refrigerator. And ever since, a stick’em has gone just beneath that beautiful flowery statement, which I added for the benefit of teenagers in the house: “So does accountability and responsibility: be a team player!”

Be kind. There’s so much more to being kind beyond the superficial brightness we often associate with it.

We talk a lot about Random Acts of Kindness. Random Acts of Kindness are lovely, and they are easy. It is a good thing to encourage. But what matters most are acts of kindness that are not random but well thought-out. They involve generosity of spirit and often come with sacrifice.

I often think of my late mother-in-law. She was extremely kind. She was sweet and easygoing in many ways. She always had a smile on her face. This was lovely, but she also did kind things for others that came at a price. The real depth of her kindness lay in the sacrifices she made.

Here’s a small thing she often did: she’d offer to watch our children when we were on a family vacation, so we, daughters-in-law, could play family tennis. Here’s the thing though; she lived for family tennis. Literally. A true act of kindness involves opportunity cost—having skin in the game and giving up your spot anyway.

There’s nothing random about it.

The Bhagavad Gita teaches us the difference between ego-driven acts of kindness—acts done out of pride, for how they make us feel, or for the attention that is drawn to us by our kind acts or words. The true spirit of an enlightened individual is one who gives wholeheartedly and selflessly, without expectation or attachment to the fruits of his or her generosity.

The same goes with another matter of kindness: vulnerability.

Brené Brown—master sociologist and extraordinaire researcher—speaks much of vulnerability as a bridge-builder, a means for connection, a way to produce joy and enhance our relationships.

It’s pretty counter-culture to what we have been conditioned to do.

“Put your best foot forward. Shake it off. Don’t air your dirty laundry. Fake it ‘til you make it.”

These are adages many of us were raised on with perhaps short-term benefits to our pride and prestige but with little ability to produce the connection and intimacy that Brené informs us vulnerability will yield.

Skeptics critique the notion of vulnerability as a sign of being weak, overly emotional, or a bleeding heart. So what could possibly make vulnerability a sign of courage and kindness?

The power of vulnerability lies in its pure unedited truth.

It is: “I trust you with my truth, and I trust you will hear me and still accept me and my raw, unedited story. I do not worry about your judgment.”

Vulnerability is an act of kindness, an olive branch of honesty so that someone else might benefit from your openness. And the stories that come with some risk of judgment or consequence, the ones that make us vulnerable but we tell anyway, these are offerings of real kindness. They take courage to tell.

There is nothing random about real kindness. It is true. It is vulnerable. It is selfless. And it is intentional.

So, on World Kindness Day, consider all kinds of kindness. It’s all good, but real kindness has the potential to change everything and everyone. Including you.

Happy World Kindness Day.

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