Given all the conflict that’s filling the airwaves at the moment, I’m declaring “Universal Kindness Month.” You in?
It’s not as easy as it sounds, this kindness stuff. You have to turn your attention from your own concerns and direct it toward the needs of someone else. You have to let go of criticism, judgement, sarcasm, condescension and blame. And truth be told, we all spend time in some of those toxic pools. They’re tactics of our egos to make us feel that at least we’re not as bad as that guy. It’s kind of silly when you think about it. But you have to admit that it’s true.
In his book Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about this other-directed kindness in a paragraph about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Wikipedia describes the Parable like this: “The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. It is about a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man.”)
Here’s what Dr. King said: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the essence of it, being more concerned with what you can do for someone else than you are with yourself. It means acting from your heart, with compassion.
Despite our self-absorption, on the whole we humans do tend to be generous to others in times of emergency or tragedy. We band together and rise to the occasion in whatever way we can.
But it everyday life, when the needs of others aren’t especially obvious, we tend to overlook them. Dedicating yourself to kindness means setting an intention to be helpful. Then, as you begin your day, you remind yourself that you want to look for opportunities to practice being kind. Set up a trigger for yourself, maybe remembering your intention every time you check your email or look at the time or date. Remind yourself when you enter a room or go through a door.
You don’t have to do big deeds. A little eye contact and a sincere smile can make someone’s day. Putting a little extra effort into a job you’re doing for someone else lets them know you care. Reach out to someone with a call or an email. Let someone know you notice and appreciate what they do. Encourage somebody.
Here’s a zen quote from my collection that lays out the ‘how’ of it really well: “Always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.”
The rewards are worth the effort. Love feels good! Kindness truly is its own reward.