Kindness = Happiness. I don’t think this mantra we have in Blissology could be more accurate overall, or more appropriate for the times we’re in. The Gottman Institute is a group of relational experts led by a husband and wife who’ve devoted their lives to studying and sharing what makes or breaks relationships. While they say criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling in discussions and conflicts are signs a relationship will fail, kindness is the #1 predictor of a successful relationship. Ecstatically married after two divorces. I’m not only convinced their research and conclusions are correct, but have a hunch this applies equally to friendships, partnerships, communities, and civil discourse in our society. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on what kindness looks like, as it’s truly like a muscle, the more we use it, the bigger it gets!
One of the keys I find to exercising kindness is to adopt a mentality and feeling of expansion over contraction. It’s pushing beyond the limits of “me” to live the diverse, sometimes uncomfortable, always vulnerable, and wildly wonderful we-centric life! It’s the realization that life isn’t about me, I am about life, in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the word. And, the bigger our circle, the easier kindness flows, at least that’s what I’ve found.
In a real way we uncork the flowing fountain of kindness that comes through us by heading Mother Teresa’s diagnosis of the world ills: We’ve merely “forgotten that we belong to each other.” To be human is to be kin. Period. Not only is your happiness my happiness, your sorrow my sorrow, your pain my pain, and your joy my joy, I am responsible for your thriving and vice versa! The more kinship becomes our goal, the more the justice and peace we long for become realities.
Greg Boyle puts it like this: “… it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom. Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not ‘a man for others’, he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that … No daylight to separate us.”
Kindness blurs all the lines. We do this by not only choosing to see the kinship in others, but also by opening our hearts to her, him, or them. When lovingkindness is guiding us, we both vulnerably lay ourselves bare before others, and let others’ hurts, celebrations, frustrations, and hopes DEEPLY affect and move us. You could say to practice kindness is to wear your and everyone else’s heart on your sleeve.
The more we move toward one another relationally with curious minds, open hearts, and giving spirits, not only do we enter more fully into the flow of kindness, we also learn about and grow to understand others more fully. This enables us to more readily believe the best about others, a hallmark of Love, because we realize her coldness comes from her childhood abuse, his anger stems from his dad’s departure, they live in fear because of hundreds of years of being viewed as less than human, and so on. As Greg Boyle observes, this spirit shifts us from judging others for not doing “better” to being in awe over what they’ve had to carry and work through.
Learning one another’s stories is central to exercising kindness. This can come directly from sharing and listening, imaginatively by telling a good story in your head for why she secretly cheated on her husband for months based on what you know of her, studiously by reading books about racism, abuse, or addiction, and so on.
From a place of kinship and “no daylight to separate us”, a mantra, question, and mentality I keep coming back to for increasing my capacity for kindheartedness is: How may I be of service? Given the uniqueness of today, for instance, what expresses Love to my wife? As a white man, how do I speak and act as an ally to minorities? While my daughter navigates high school, learning to drive, her first boyfriend, and becoming a fabulous young lady, what balance of wisdom, direction, and freedom will best aid her? I could, and likely usually would, go on, but hopefully that lands the point well enough. 🙂
Nelson Henderson said: The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. To me, this gets at the essence of kindness, as it seeks the greatest good for others without expectation of return or response, because truly the greatest gift is in the giving! I hope this has been a gift to you. What resonated with you? Are there any shifts you’d like to make? The good news is kindness is like a rainbow, full of different options for various people. Plus, it’s humble by nature, meaning small, simple, and sustainable thoughts, words, and deeds are more than enough and make a world of difference! You’re amazing, and I hope your day is too!
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