I mean… the title really says it all, doesn’t it? Yeah? Okay, I guess my work here is done.
Elaborating on Being Kind to Self and Others
This year has been… a shitshow. A real blowout bad-trip psychedelic circus. So many people I know, and even more that I don’t know, are suffering right now. So today I wanted to talk about kindness.
Human beings like to think of ourselves as creatures of logic and science. Just look around, of course, and it’s clear that our capacity for invention and discovery is exponential. But as I’ve observed and studied people over the years, it seems more and more apparent that, at the heart of it, emotions are the driving force behind nearly everything we do.
Emotional instincts might vary from person to person, but they’re still incredibly potent. The instinct to hide when threatened, to lash out in pain, to puff ourselves up in defense; these reactions are both common and completely natural. And in times like this, when we feel powerless and scared and isolated, things can get… ugly. We can get ugly.
But the advantage of being a self-aware species is being able to notice those instincts, those trends in behavior, forgive ourselves, and learn.
Yes, experiencing intense emotions might cause us to act in ways that will feel good in the moment. But what about the next moment? What about the person or people who take the brunt of your pain? Your feelings may be real, but we always have a choice in how we respond. It is not an act of strength to lash out in anger, any more than it is weakness to reach out a hand and help someone to their feet.
What does Kindness look like?
Kindness takes so many forms, and it’s one of the few bright spots in a dark world. Maybe kindness is leaving a note on your neighbor’s door, letting them know you have some extra groceries, and would they like any grapefruits? Maybe kindness is biting your tongue on the snide comment your brother really deserves — after all, he’s having a bad week too. Maybe kindness is just… listening to your favorite album in the dark and letting yourself feel whatever you need to feel. Compassion is everything right now. Compassion for strangers and loved ones alike, but also compassion for yourself.
Because all that fear feels very well founded. I don’t know how to save lives in Beirut or reverse climate change or eradicate white supremacy; I can’t ensure that my partner has a good day, that’s his job.That lack of control feels so big, so frightening, so frustrating.
But there is one thing I will always have a final say in: What I Do.
No one else. Just me.
Kindness is a Choice, Sometimes a Hard One
We are fueled by the energy we put out into the universe. And although my rage and hate may feel righteous and justified, acting with compassion casts a cleansing light, both on myself and others.
It’s not always easy. In fact sometimes it’s blindingly difficult. I have to reach, grasp at the elusive threads of my kindness like a retreating kite string, even as the darkness closes in around me. I have to remind myself that even the most casual cruelty can have a deep and lasting impact. I have to honor my desperation and resentment and vulnerability and still choose to act out of love.
To reach out to my friends, because the voice in my head saying they hate me is utter nonsense. To breathe slowly when I’m on the phone with yet another customer service agent, because they’re people too and won’t help me at all if I start yelling. To forgive myself every day for being less productive than I wish I were.
It’s a choice, not a personality trait. And even if you were cruel yesterday, you can be better tomorrow. Reach for compassion. We all need it, right now more than ever. It’s not much, but it’s not nothing either. Love yourselves and each other. Be kind.