“…Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind”

-Bertolt Brecht, “To Posterity”

 

 

Kindness (personal)

As a coach, one of my jobs is to lay “foundations of kindness”. When working with a client (let’s say it’s you, dear reader), beyond any skill or wisdom I may or may not bring to the table, I want you to feel loving kindness coming from me.

The hope is that you can also practice kindness, first and foremost to yourself. That you will look on the areas of your life that aren’t yet what you hoped they would be and, rather than beating yourself up, treat yourself with grace, understanding, patience… kindness. For most of us, learning to do so is what will lead us to treat others kindly.

So that’s the goal.
That’s what we’re shooting for.

But…

If I can be honest, the last couple days I have had a really hard time being kind. Some combination of the ongoing stresses of pandemic and quarantine, a couple nights in a row of poor sleep, and a slippage in my self-care regimen, and… I haven’t been the most pleasant person, either to myself or to my saint of a partner, Sarah. I find myself pulling inward, not reaching out to loved ones, thinking primarily of myself, resenting Sarah’s intrusions on my time and headspace as I work to, well, lay “foundations of kindness.”

Alas, we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind.

Kindness (public)

(The Bertolt Brecht poem quoted above deals with this public realm. Read the whole thing here – it’s really good, I promise!)

Many of us feel a calling to engage with the world around us in ways that generate loving kindness. We practice our religion, we advocate politically for justice… basically we try to encourage ourselves and others to treat one another with kindness and respect, and we try to build kind systems and reform or tear down unkind systems.

The hope is that we can work together to build a kinder world. That we can look on the areas of the world that aren’t yet what we hoped they would be and find ways to work together to make them better. And at the end of a hard day of work we sit back, have a glass of wine, and appreciate that the world is a little kinder place because of our shared labor.

  So that’s the goal.
  That’s what we’re shooting for.

But…

If we can be honest, recently (always?) we have had a really hard time being kind. Our visions for what a kinder world will look like don’t line up. I don’t like what you’re trying to change in the world or the way you go about trying to change it. I feel that I’ve evolved to a kinder, more correct viewpoint, and I have no patience with you who haven’t come to the same place or are still on a journey. We find ourselves pulling inward, cocooning ourselves among like-minded people and vilifying “those other people”, working towards our goals and resenting or attacking others who hinder our work to, well, lay “foundations of kindness.”

Alas, we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind.

And so…

  • I grieve, I lament, I say “alas.” We collectively might do the same. This is different than beating myself up or from saying all is lost in the world. No, instead, it’s giving appropriate attention and emotion to the gap between who I want to be and how I sometimes act, between how I want the world to be and the fact that I am (we are) as often a part of the problem as a part of the solution. I don’t get stuck in the grief or in guilt, but KINDLY remind myself of who I am.
  • I engage in spiritual practices that might help change me. Particularly here I’m thinking of loving-kindness meditation. Click here for a more detailed guide for this practice, but in short it looks like this:
    1. I spend time soaking in love and kindness, visualizing those who love me and/or experiencing the love of God or the divine as we understand it. I receive their kindness and their intention that I be well, safe, happy, and at ease.
    2. Then I begin to visualize others, starting with someone I find easy to love. I think of them fondly and send love and kindness, wishing that they would be well, safe, happy and at ease.
    3. I go through the same process with a) someone about whom I have more neutral feelings (neither all that positive or negative), b) someone whom I have trouble loving, and c) finally the whole world. 

How do you respond when you find yourself being less than kind? How are you trying to live kindness in public? I’d love to hear what you’ve found helpful in the comments. Be well, my friends.

 

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2 thoughts on “Kindness (personal and public)

  1. Shellie Hagerman says:

    Self reflection really takes time and being honest with yourself. Thank you for your thoughts. It will be interesting to watch how your thoughts flow as time goes on. Thanks so much for this
    .
    Shellie Hagerman

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