Thoughts on Kindness

  My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness.

–Dalai Lama

In this world where cruelty and violence occupy the news, kindness can seem painfully absent, barely getting a respectful nod.

Someone once told me that he was afraid to be kind.  He was afraid to admit wrong or offer forgiveness to someone who injured him.  “People will think I’m weak,” he said.  Being seen as “weak” terrified him.  If he could keep his heart impenetrable, resisting any softening around the edges, he could remain in control.  He could minimize the possibility of being hurt.

At first I struggled to understand how admitting wrong could be construed as “weak.”  What is weakness anyway?  And how could offering forgiveness to another constitute weakness?  His viewpoint taught me a little about the world that others live in, a realm of fear in which one must always be on guard:  Others are out to hurt you.  They may do you harm.  Better be tough.

Yet as I think more about it, perhaps I’ve felt the same way.  Perhaps, at times, we’ve all protected ourselves from a fear of rejection, rudeness, or dismissal.  When have I hardened my heart in an effort to resist vulnerability and the possibility of hurt?

So, I’m wondering, how do we dig deep into that reservoir of kindness that’s waiting to be tapped and expressed?  What nurtures kindness and makes us gentler people?  Here’s a thought, a short segment of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

In other words, a broken heart sows the seeds of kindness.

I suppose it is true that we can evolve in a different direction.  Instead of becoming kinder, we can become bitter, angry, and resentful.  We can project our hostility outward.

Yet I understand what the poet is saying.  Loss is capable of breaking us open, sowing the seeds of compassion and patience.  When I consider my own mistakes, I understandAster Daisies

better the mistakes of others.  When I’ve done the best I can in a difficult situation but still come up short, I’m reminded that perhaps others are doing the best they can, too.

As the poet says, there’s the possibility of gift in the midst of sorrow.  What if we made kindness our companion?  What if we ignored the differences of others and simply opened our hearts to them, honored them as individuals, respected their views?

Perhaps the unexpected power of kindness, gentleness, and patience–disguised as weakness by some–would change our relationships, our communities and our very world more than we realize.

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