This is the post I knew I had to do all week but I have been struggling to figure out how to attack it. Let’s start here:
Just because you’re kind doesn’t mean that you’ll be rewarded in turn.
There, I’ve said it. Launched the obvious grenade into the middle of the table. Well, you might ask, why in the world do we want to be kind if it doesn’t make people around us be appreciative or be kind in return? Great question, and most of you that read this blog already know the answers to that query. So, for the next several paragraphs, I’ll literally be preaching to the choir.
First, this is not a black and white position I’m taking. Not everyone will be kind in return–true. Not everyone will pay your kindness forward to someone else. But, some will and you will find your kindness appreciated and returned by many. I think of a simple example of holding the first door for someone in a double foyer who, in turn, holds the second one open for you. Or the older person whose groceries you carry to her car to be rewarded by her appreciative smile and “thank you.” So, while there’s not an inevitable guarantee that your kindness will be received with gratitude and repayment, in many cases you will receive some acknowledgement for your efforts.
But, is this really why I’m proposing a life of kindness, generosity, mercy and helpfulness? So, you can get repaid by kindness or so you can hope the benefactors of your kindness will “pay it forward” in return? No. This is where it gets trickier to explain and we must go deeper to understand.
The kindness I discuss above really has its root in common courtesy and manners–the stuff many of our parents teach us as we’re growing up. Samples of this courtesy kindness include saying, “thank you,” opening doors for people, letting someone go before us in line, holding chairs out for our dates, and in the old days bowing and curtsying when we would meet new people. We do have to admit that in this day and age those things are NOT a guarantee anymore the way they might have been years ago. So when they do happen, it does legitimately feel like someone has extended us a kindness. And, I do think this common courtesy is an important part of civilized society and it DOES make a difference in someone’s day. So, please…by all means, “rock on” with these forms of kindness.
The kindness that’s harder to draw on in our day-to-day lives is the kindness born out of love. Yep, that’s what I said. You read it correctly–LOVE. This is not the ordinary day-to-day love we watch in movies or read in romance novels. I’m talking about deep love for ourselves and others regardless of what they do for us or to us. This is not conditional love based on whether someone “loves” us back. Picture here: that colleague at work you just can’t stand to be around; that homeless person you run into on the way to work; that family member who always finds fault with the way you do things; that counterperson in the bakery who’s not very nice to you; that nurse in your doctor’s office who seems impatient with your questions; that neighbor who just won’t cooperate by following deed restrictions; that driver who cuts you off in traffic; that friend who seems to try your patience by talking your ear off about her woes. I’m talking about the people in our lives who we find hard to “love,” or to show kindness.
I’m not sure we can find that type of love easily. You may have been blessed to grow up in a family or in a church that taught you this type of love. Others of us have only begun to glimpse it as a result of experiencing loss and the transformation which can be br0ught about by the loss. It is from a deep sense of vulnerability that you can transform the way you regard yourself and others. You realize when people are unkind to you that it is more about them and less about you. It frees you to treat them differently than if you take what they say or do personally. Your behavior is not dictated by whether they show you kindness. It is dictated by a deeper sense of humanity; a deeper sense of love and compassion.
Those of you who know me know I’m not a “religious” person. I have a deep and abiding faith and exercise it through various spiritual practices, but not through weekly visits to church. If I find a minister who teaches like Richard Rohr, then I’ll reconsider that practice, but in the meantime, my mind has been opened to interesting possibilities by studying his books and his daily blogs. For those of you who want to learn more about the “love” I’m talking about, I’ll provide you links below to two of Rohr’s blog posts this week. These are posts on love and Paul’s famous chapter in 1Corinthians which we’ve all sat and listened to at weddings over the years (“love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”). Hopefully, it will further your understanding of the journey to a kindness that’s built on the foundation of love. I am grateful for the food for thought his posts bring to me.
In the meantime, it’s been seven days of kindness. Remember it takes 21 days to develop a habit. Keep on keeping on.