Time for Kindfulness
I can only take a periodic peek at the news most weeks because the world looks pretty hostile. I saw a Canadian man yelling at one of the truck drivers involved in the blockade in Ottawa and he dropped the f bomb about 10 times in less than a minute. Not what we typically picture as Canadian behavior. And of course, the truckers were pretty hostile, too. Hostility seems to be the go-to over differences between opinions over wearing masks to getting vaccinated to dealing with inflation to political strife.
When someone disagrees with us, we tend to judge the person instead of the behavior that the person is demonstrating. That opens the door for hatred and shuts down any opportunity for discussion or healthy debate. But just because we don’t agree with them doesn’t mean we have to hate them. We don’t usually even know them. We may dislike their behavior but that has nothing to do with who they are and when we jump to hostility and hatred, we no longer see them as people just like us. We see them as an opponent and a threat.
I think by now we all know that regardless of which side of an issue we’re on, we can’t convince the other side to change their minds. So how do we return to a more civilized world in the midst of all of this hostility? The answer may be as simple as kindness.
Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It’s also the capacity to feel for another’s unhappiness or misfortune, and sympathetic concern for the well-being of others. The opposite of kindness is cruelty, harshness, hatred, hostility and cold-heartedness. It’s important to keep in mind that despite what we see on the news and social media, there are probably many more kind people than hostile people on the planet. Kindness just isn’t sexy enough to sell advertising, so we typically see the worst of humanity instead of the best, unfortunately. But I think after what we’ve all been through, a little more kindness might be in order.
What does kindness have to do with mindfulness? Well, first, you can’t be kind without paying attention to the present moment situation. Second, mindfulness is simply the act of present-moment and non-judgmental awareness, so based on that definition, doesn’t necessarily do anything for others. It takes actions to live mindfully and it is through kindness and compassion that the spirit of mindfulness comes alive.
Kindness is related to feelings, responsiveness, sensitivity, affection, love, empathy and generosity. Expressing these behaviors benefits both the giver of kindness and the receiver. Kindness has been shown in studies to reduce stress and improve mood and self-esteem. It can create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. There is some evidence that being aware of our own acts of kindness can increase feelings of happiness, optimism and satisfaction. So, scientifically speaking, kindness is really good for us.
There’s a bigger picture result from being kind as well. Acts of kindness have the potential to make our world a happier place due to two outcomes from kind behavior. Kindness can boost feelings of confidence and being in control. Much of the mean behavior we’re witnessing is really people’s desperation to feel more in control so practicing kindness could not only help them achieve that but alleviate the stress and frustration that spills over into society as a whole.
Additionally, humans indirectly learn behaviors through observing others. We know emotions are contagious, but so are behaviors. As we observe behaviors, our brains are analyzing not just the behaviors, but the moral judgments behind them. We’re learning without even being conscious of it and it’s why modeling is so heavily emphasized in child-rearing. Children learn more from what we do than from what we say.
Since kindness can improve our own health plus help others, it seems like a no-brainer. But how do we become kinder? As always, it starts with ourselves. Practice being kind to yourself. Take care of yourself, be gentle with yourself when you make a mistake. Be self-loving when you’re unwell or sad. Integrate kindness into your meditation practice by placing your hand over your heart and soften your self-talk by reminding yourself to relax or take it easy or to remind yourself that you’re okay. Appreciate how good it feels to be kind, which means mindfully paying attention to what happens in your mind and body when you’ve performed a kind act.
To increase kindness towards others, tell people when you feel something positive about them. Consider kindness before you speak. You know, that old adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. In conversations, listen more than you talk. People want to be heard and this is one of the kindest actions you can take, to provide them that space. Model kindness by being mindful of how you treat others.
"Kindness can be as simple as, you know, smiling at someone (from 6 feet away of course) or holding the door for someone. It doesn't have to be super big, but it can be...and it can be something very small." ~ Orion Jean
Eleven-year-old Orion Jean, who in response to the angry reaction of people at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, asked, where is the hope? Where is the love? He entered a contest and ultimately won Time Magazine’s 2021 Kid of the Year, seeing himself as an ambassador for kindness and jumping in wherever he sees a need. At a time when isolation and division are rampant, he sees the world as it could be if more people brought their communities together to help their neediest members. He took his prize money from the Time award and started the Race to Kindness as a way to get people involved in the community, a call to action to go out and do something about it when they see a need.
"The Race To Kindness is a series of events focused on spreading kindness through out the country and across the world. the goals change each time and so far I have been able to collect 619 toys, 100,984 meals, and well over 500,000 books for underserved communities."
This wise 6th grader says that kindness is a choice and while we can’t force others to be kind, we can be kind ourselves and hope to inspire other people. He thinks that many people have great ideas, but never act on them. He strongly believes that if there’s an issue or problem or something that we see that we want to solve, all it takes is really just knowing deep down inside that it’s something we care about, and we can go out and get started.
In an interview with Angelina Jolie, special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Orion said he thinks that “one of the things about being kind is that you perk up when you hear other people being unkind or when you hear about people that aren’t doing the right thing. It makes you sad inside”….but “you hope that by inspiring other people to spread kindness that they will somehow see it and…change their ways and be more kind in the future.” He also shared that kindness can sometimes be just as easy as not being mean to someone or not talking about someone behind their back or posting that mean comment on social media or not being cruel to someone.
"One thing I have learned throughout this process is that when people come together for a common cause, great things can happen. And when people see a need and they are provided and opportunity to help, most people will."
An amazingly mindful young man who not only models kindness, but also promotes self-care, understanding at just eleven years old that we have to take care of ourselves in order to be of more service to others.
Shamash Aldina wrote an article in mindful.org, talking about her favorite monk, Ajahn Brahm, speaking at Google Headquarters back in 2015. He shared that mindfulness and compassion work far better together and coined the term for it as kindfulness. Aldina said that rather than using the word mindfulness, perhaps kindfulness is better. It reminds us to be forgiving and friendly. Kindfulness leads to insightful wisdom, joy and peace.
As we face what appears to be another challenging year on many fronts, couldn’t we all use a little more kindness? If an eleven-year-old can step up and be so responsive to the needs of others through acts of kindness, can’t we all do it? I think so. We could all start being more kindful today. Like Orion said, it can be as simple as smiling at someone, so consider what you can do to provide more hope in the world. Major change happens one person at a time, so consider practicing kindfulness and let’s see what we can do.