“My religion is very simple.
My religion is kindness.” – The Dalai Lama
I’m not always the nicest person.
I’m impatient, and as an introvert (yeah, despite my “extroverted” presentation), I can sometimes lack generosity in my attempts to parse out energy, attention, and time.
Not being naturally nice makes it even more important for me to attempt to practice being kind.
I do this by recalling the sort of person I want to be.
I do this by recalling the world I seek to build. The world I want to live in.
Do I want to live in a world run by greed, anger, oppression, and tearing one another down? No.
Therefore, I must practice, daily, living in the sort of world I want. Even though it may not exist in the doddering, top heavy, inequitable society I currently live in, I can sow as many seeds of a new world as possible, from the smallest interactions, to my attitude.
Even when I feel like I fail, I can always try again. And in the midst of my failures and missteps? I’m so grateful when people choose to be kind to me.
Kindness: The acknowledgement that we are “of a kind” or perhaps even “akin” to one another.
The Old English root of kind meant "with the feeling of relatives for each other.”
Therefore: To seek kindness is to acknowledge, “You and I, despite our differences, are related. We are not completely separate from one another.”
To seek kindness is to seek connection.
To seek kindness is to empathize with someone else, no matter how much we may dislike them, or how foreign they may seem.
What can we relate to? Recollection of relation is a step toward kindness.
Kindness –not niceness– can require firmness. Sometimes kindness even requires our anger, or the sort of truth telling that makes others feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes kindness means confrontation.
Sometimes kindness means holding someone’s hand.
Sometimes kindness means walking away before more harm is done.
I recently posted –among some friends– my rules for engaging with bigots on my public Facebook page.
Facebook conversations aren’t something I like. Sometimes to people’s chagrin, I don’t leap into arguments or even long, thoughtful discussions. I prefer to do those one on one, if possible.
That said, I have a large public Facebook presence. And I choose to talk about justice a lot. So sometimes I end up engaging, not just with people who disagree with me, but with actual bigots, and sometimes even those we may name trolls.
What do I do with them? I choose to be kind. But I choose to be kind knowing that I’m being kind in the larger sense of the word. I’m calling upon connection with every single person who may end up reading my words and the words my interlocutor has posted.
I want to connect, not with the bigot –because usually if they’ve sought out my page, they are there simply to sow discord and are not interested in actual dialog. Trust me, I’ve got more than 11,000 people who follow my page, so when stuff spreads, or the topic is hot, folks who have no interest in my page come crawling out– I want to connect with the other people reading.
I want to connect with the person who might be on the fence, or have uncertainties.
I want to connect with the person who may need fresh ideas to bolster their own arguments.
I want to connect with the marginalized people who may want to see that someone out there cares.
All of this is one way of being kind. And some days? Kindness looks like blocking and banning people from my page.
So often, the kind thing is to act firmly, clearly, and state what I need to in as respectful a manner as possible.
Remember, I want to build the world I wish to live in. So I don’t want to engage in personal attacks. I don’t want to degrade anyone. But I do want to stand firmly in my truth.
Also, kindness is not subjecting ourselves or others to abuse.
I used to work full time in a soup kitchen. Sometimes, in order to respect the space and respect our guests, we chose to kick another guest out for the day.
That was offering respect to the space and to the person we asked to leave. It was saying, “Here’s a boundary. We gave you a chance to honor it. You crossed that boundary, so we are asking you to leave until you can work within our community agreements again.”
To allow one guest to trample on all the others is not an act of kindness and connection. Rather, it allows one person to rend the threads of connection for everyone, leaving community agreements and safe spaces in tatters.
To allow someone to trample on ourselves is also not a kindness to either of us.
Kindness requires both empathy and boundaries.
Therefore, sometimes kindness means offering someone money, or a meal, or a shoulder to cry on, or a listening ear.
And sometimes kindness means saying, “That’s enough.”
I want to keep trying to practice kindness. Even when I fail.
And I need to recall: sometimes kindness needs to be directed at the self. Empathy and boundaries help us all.
We can’t rescue each other, as much as we want to. We can try our best, and sometimes we’ll succeed. But we can rescue our inner lives from hatred and vitriol and division.
This helps us to cultivate greater empathy, the knowledge of who we are and where we stand. It reminds us what connection feels like.
We can start by imagining a world where we are kind.
Copyright T. Thorn Coyle, September 2016
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