Corny but Kind

My weekly column for your viewing pleasure (hopefully):

“The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given
me new courage to face life cheerfully have been kindness, truth and
beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ah, truth and beauty — arguably two of the elements of a good life lived are subjects for another day. Kindness once again is raising its lofty head in recognition of its role in creating a life worth living—but does it really make a difference?

Author George Saunders thinks so. In his convocation speech in 2013 to graduates at Syracuse University he told the grads that what he regrets most in life are his “failures of kindness”. These failures were not in the guise of unkindness but he says were “moments when another human being was there, in front of me suffering and I responded….sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” In other words, while he did not ignore the suffering, neither did he go that extra mile to alleviate it.

He admits that his advice is corny, but he delivers it anyway. He suggests that there is no greater goal in life than to “try to be kinder.” Saunders tries to answer the question as to why we are not kinder and in doing so he cites these three reasons, which intellectually make no sense but we seem to believe them “viscerally” or instinctively. The first is that we are central to the universe and that the only interesting story is our personal one. The second is in direct contrast to the first: we’re separate from the universe (there is us, and then out there is all that other junk). Number three is the real kicker, and most of us live our lives in this state of denial: we are permanent, and while we recognize that death is real, it is for other people.

So these three belief systems tend to make us put our needs before those of other people, even though Saunders claims what we really want is to be “less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, and more loving” (which translates into kindness). He says that we know we “want to be these things because from time to time we have been these things—and liked it.”

He also asks this important question: “Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?” And since he was giving the speech, he also provided the answer, which in its simplicity is complex: “Those who were kindest to you.”

So what does kindness mean? Many things it turns out. It includes compassion—an understanding of the human condition. And sympathy, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, gentleness, and benevolence, or more simply good will towards your fellow earth walkers. But a good will that you extend. Kindness is an act—it must be an action to be of any use.

Saunders believes that kindness “it turns out, is hard”. He says that as we get older, it is easier to be kinder, and if you have kids, that will be a “huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to you, as long as they benefit.” His advice to the graduates is to go ahead and accomplish things, succeed in your endeavours, but at the same time hurry up the gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving. He says “Speed it along. Start right now.” Don’t wait to become kinder and gentler. Act on it now and “seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines. Energetically, for the rest of your life.”

The other day on Facebook, someone put out the challenge to participate in a “Pay it Forward” initiative. The first five people who commented with an “I’m in” would be the recipients of a surprise from her at some point this year—and the surprise would take the form of “anything from a book, a ticket, something home-grown, a postcard, or absolutely any surprise.” She said that there would be no warning and “it will happen when the mood comes over me”. The catch, if you can call it a catch is to make the same offer to five more people, and form a “web connection of kindness.” Well, I sent her my “I’m in” and in the spirit of kindness will be posting the same initiative on my Facebook page.

Oh, and the reason for the initiative? The post said that it is being done “without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other.” Now that is kindness in action.

Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Comments (16)  
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Changing the World: One Door at a Time

Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, looking north...

Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, looking northwards towards the Parliament Buildings from Queen Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My niece Krista Kreling tweeted this today. She is a kind, loving, and intelligent girl. I thought I would share this with all of you. If you do not know, there was a terrible accident in Ottawa yesterday between a train and a bus and at last count six people lost their lives.

“Saw this quote in a tweet today and it has really resonated with me. Beautiful words on the heels of a very sad day in Ottawa. “I believe in kindness. I believe that when you hold a door open for someone, you change them – just a little bit.” June Callwood

Published in: on September 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm  Comments (12)  
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You Do Not Always Have to be Right!

Cover of "Angels and Fairies (The World's...

Cover via Amazon

Yesterday, I read something that really makes me want to be a better person. I cannot remember if I read it on another blog or from a friend in an email or in a magazine ~ and I am not sure I remember it perfectly but it is this:

I am going to practice being kind, not right.

I think I may have paraphrased here, and hopefully not stolen it from someone. But I have been trying to practice this for the last few hours. I do not know how long my first foray into kindness and not having to be right will go—but even if I fail, I am going to start all over again.

Seems so simple and it can make such a big difference.

What do you think?

Published in: on August 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm  Comments (47)  
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A Little Nourishment from Food for Thought


Humanity… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am so often inspired by other bloggers and today is no exception.

valeriedavies in the Food for Thought section of her blog today quoted Lynne Twist who is a global activist, fundraiser, speaker, consultant, coach and author dedicated to global initiatives that serve humanity. She said:

“The feminine principle is the eagerness to collaborate rather than compete, it is the eagerness to relate rather than stand out as an individual, it is the longing for harmony and community and caring and nurturing.”

I like this principle but would like to add that competition and individualism strengthen us so that we can be caring and nurturing, and create harmony and community. I contend that competition provides us with some of the hard knocks that make us capable; and we must recognize ourselves as an individual before we can be of service to others.

I think that the principle of humanity is the longing for harmony and community and caring and nurturing. I define humanity as humankind with the emphasis on kind. If we embody the noun-ness of humanity we take in kindness, charity, compassion, sympathy and mercy (or so says my thesaurus). These are not just feminine attributes; they are the attributes of goodness.

The principle outlined by Twist is not just a feminine one; it is one of humanity. I may have my rose-coloured glasses on today, but sometimes we need to celebrate the fact that  while some may think the world is going to hell in a handbag ~ we cannot succumb to that kind of negativity—for if we do, we are surely going down a dark and twisted path.

What do you think?

Gifts ~ Is It the Thought that Counts?

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Care to appear happy…..” ~ Saint Therese

Do you ever buy yourself Christmas presents? I do. One of my presents to myself this year is Gretchen Rubin’s book “Happier at Home”. I loved her first book, “The Happiness Project” so thought I would get this sequel of sorts.

In the December chapter of her book, she gives two particularly good pieces of advice. The first is taken from her favourite “obsession”, Saint Therese of Lisieux, whose philosophy entailed taking “care to appear happy and especially to be so.” (p. 116) This  quote from the Saint who died young of tuberculosis, tells me that being happy is something we can conjure up, something that is within our control, no matter how we feel. We can be happy (or at least appear so) if we set our mind to it for the sake of others.

The other piece of advice Gretchen provides in this chapter is extremely timely.  She says that Saint Therese emphasizes “the importance of accepting gifts in the spirit in which they are offered, instead of responding to the gift itself,” which is just another way to “care to appear happy.”

This takes us out of the equation and puts the emphasis on the person who chose the gift for us and the thought and trouble that went into the choice. I love this! I have been guilty in the past of just looking at how I will use a gift, or what I will wear it with, or whether I can keep it alive, or any number of other things, rather than the fact that the gift is an offering of love, thoughtfulness, kind-heartedness and consideration.

So, this holiday season, I am determined to take the time to respond to the spirit in which the gift is given rather than the gift itself.

Gretchen does draw the line at passive-aggressive gifts though. She says that sometimes the spirit in which a gift is given is not all that kind—for example, when someone is gifted running clothes, a certificate to a spinning class and an electronic calorie counter—a none too subtle message is being sent.

I myself would be very unhappy to receive gifts that emphasize “organizing your life”—I am afraid I would have trouble accepting them in the spirit they are given—since that spirit would be a little annoying. I do not need a “teaching moment” gift. (Pearls would be nice though–a single black pearl on a silver chain in particular if anyone is wondering–this is useless as my husband does not read my blog. It is something that he is going to get around to some day. That day has not yet come.)

Have you ever received a gift that you had to remember the spirit in which it was given, because otherwise you would wonder what the heck the person was thinking?


Kindly Remember

Random Acts of Kindness Ribbon

Random Acts of Kindness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


            I’ve got to say I cannot agree with Random Acts of Kindness Day. This Friday, November 4th has been dubbed Random Acts of Kindness Day and is defined as a day to celebrate “little niceties”, and encourage people to pay those “acts of kindness forward.” On the surface this is a seemingly charming and lovely philosophy. But think about it—do we really need one day to prove that we are thoughtful? Shouldn’t we always practice kindness, and not just randomly? And if we are doing the act of kindness as a way to pay it forward, then is it really an act of kindness or just something to get the karma going? (You know–do something nice now to get something nice done for you in the future.)

Random’s cousins are chance, accidental, haphazard, indiscriminate, casual and unsystematic. Should we really practice something accidentally or haphazardly? Should we not put some thought into our acts of kindness? And to take it one step further—shouldn’t we be kind without having to found a day to enact helpfulness, compassion and charity?

I went to a website touting “Random Acts of Kindness Day” where one mother’s testimony showed her pride in her young daughter for being kind. In her own words this is how she described the random act of kindness:

“I am thrilled that my daughter, Maggie, came home from Senior Kindergarten and said she pulled everyone in the wagon outside (instead of taking her usual turn) and then she “wowed” me even more when she said she is going to make “kindness day” every day!”

Well, duh—so we have to be guided by a kindergartener in not just being kind for a day, but being kind every day? Maggie certainly has the right idea—being kind just one day out of the year didn’t make sense to her.

Do we have to be guilted into being kind? The ads on TV say “hold a door open for someone, smile at someone to brighten their day, pay someone a compliment”. Don’t we do that anyway? Seriously, the world is in really bad shape if we have to be told to do these things. If you do not naturally do them (and I think most people do) then you are not going to start just because someone has declared it Random Acts of Kindness Day!

Okay, before I fall off my soap box, let me wish you a Happy November. I always feel sorry for November—it seems to be the lost month. In Canada it is between that happy month of October and the merry month of December. Maybe November needs some random acts of kindness. We should learn to like grey and rain and a month with a solemn day to remember those who fought (and continue fighting or peacekeeping-a much nicer word). I believe it is great that we have a day, one day, we set aside to honour those who faced (and face) atrocities for our freedom.

Remembrance Day is a little like Random Acts of Kindness Day. We should remember all the time, just as we should be kind all the time. I would never get rid of Remembrance Day or the couple of minutes we spend on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour remembering, but we should not just don a poppy and observe silence and think we have done our duty. So many of my baby boomer friends, whose dads served in the WWII and are no longer here, remember that their brave fathers (and a few, their mothers) did not brag about the war years, nor complain. They came home, took care of their families, and did not share the atrocities they saw or went through. I heed the words of Jose Narosky, the Argentinian writer who said “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”

Just as little Maggie is determined to make every day a “kindness day”, I am going to make every day a “remembrance day”, remembering those who made it easy for us to be able to practice kindness in a country where freedom reigns.

According to author Cynthia Ozick, “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” Thank you to all those who made it (and continue to make it) possible for us to take our freedom and liberty for granted. No random act of kindness can repay you—but we can try.

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 2:16 pm  Comments (4)  
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