Skip to main content

Posts

A Public Kindness

I was inspired lately by this poem, titled "Kindness" by Stephen Dunn. An excerpt:

In Manhattan, I learned a public kindness/ was a triumph/ over the push of money, the constrictions of fear. If it occurred it came/ from some deep primal memory, almost entirely lost -  Here, let me help you, then you me, otherwise we'll die.
Arguably, public kindness is a highly visible type of altruism. Which yields for us a fascinating question: is kindness synonymous with altruism? And did altruism arise solely to preserve life?

I would contend that kindness and altruism are not the same thing. Because kindness may not come solely in acts. It also may come in the simple orientation we have towards each other, to share our joy and our mutually positive energy. Or to not say a cruel word.

I do love that image from the poem, of triumphing over the constrictions of money and of fear. I'll be taking that with me, and looking for more opportunities for public - and private - kindnesses…
Recent posts

Are You the Sum Total of Your Life Experiences?

A thought experiment to consider, prompted by a classic question.
Are you the sum total of your life experiences? What comes to mind when you read that? If you are like many of us, then the question as it is given might make you reflect on things you have done. Or not done. Going all the way back to childhood, you might start thinking of "life experiences" and their "sum total" as a curious kind of karmic list. Bad things, good things, and things in between. People you helped. And incidents you would likely prefer not to remember.

Sometimes my mind starts racing, remembering all the things that have happened, and obsessing over certain reactions and details. Snippets start flowing, and once they get going, it's hard to stop the cascading effect. "Is she still mad that I said that? It was years ago, so I hope she forgot. But it's true, I still remember." "Oh, I hope that my old colleague doesn't remember that one time, in the airport, whe…

Flights Suck, Airlines Suck Harder, But Hey: We're Going on Vacation!

I like to write posts on kindness when I have recently battled rage. Especially when I have experienced that unique rage that gets directed at incompetence. You know the type. Themes include:
"Why can't I get anyone in customer service to explain what's happening, after being on hold for 20 minutes? Don't they know how to do their jobs? They're getting paid to talk to me, not the other way around!"
Yes, undergoing a rage attack really brings into perspective: the gap between current state and desired future state in cultivating kindness.

You see, as I was writing this post initially, yours truly was sitting on the runway at Newark, waiting for my flight to get underway. It was a flight from Newark to Houston. Except that I began the day at Boston Logan, and aimed to end up in Memphis. The interim stop in Houston was unplanned. Ah, United Airlines! They had a few tricks up their sleeves for me.

I found myself getting very caught up in the minutiae of various …

On Election Day

I never could stand the gritted-teeth tones of Election Day coverage.

"Will she or won't she win, in light of the surge in negative ads?" "What will be the impact of fake Facebook groups?" "Is big money going to prevail?" "Can voters overcome the false claims that Trump is making, and choose for themselves?"

It's not so much the content, though there's plenty to be outraged about (and we should be). I'm against fake news, voter suppression, big money in politics, and falsehoods of every type.

It's just that on Election Day, it's time to make history, not read reporting on it. It's time to seize control over anxiety and DO something. Gather your loved ones and go to the polls. Talk about what matters. Then, tell them you love them.

You may be wondering: Where does kindness come in?

Only everywhere.

Bring a neighbor to the polls. Take donuts to the poll watchers and election judges. While you're at it, give your gr…

The 95% Rule

Yesterday morning, I was walking back to the house from the gym - my usual route, across Canal Street. Per usual at 7.45am, the road was filled with rushing cars, commuting to points downtown. Per usual, I entered the crosswalk. And for nearly the hundredth time, I almost got sideswiped by a car that was legally mandated to stop for pedestrians.

All of that was, sadly, well within the norm of my experience. But what pushed me over the edge was the fact that the car that nearly killed me took the time to roll down his window and scream obscenities at me. The car was a Lexus, driven by a man in his 50s or 60s.

If only he had paused before the crosswalk,  rather than after. Evidently he had the time to do one but not the other?

What's a compassionate human being to do?

Pause. Breathe. Forget about it. Send a dose of kindness his way, enough to disinfect him from whatever scum was infiltrating his mind.

Did I do that? Of course not at the time. But later - maybe.

When's the last …

The history of kindness...

What is the history of kindness?

So I wondered, as I read over the many inspiring comments that I received for my birthday. (Thank you, by the way!)

In terms of "random acts of kindness," Google had an answer ready and waiting for me. It would appear that a woman in Sausalito, CA wrote the following on a placemat, in 1982:

Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.
From this humble origin, the quote entered the world and spread in newspaper articles, bumper stickers, and other analog media. Possibly it's the first meme to be generated from a placemat?

I don't believe that either the concept of "kindness" or "random acts" of it only began in 1982, by the way. It's just funny how the internet has answers to these specific types of questions.

Challenge for the day: can you smile at three* strangers? Especially difficult if you normally maintain an expressionless mask as you move about your day (or if you think you're maint…

All I want for my birthday is...

Have you ever had a bad day turn around because of incredibly small, yet memorable, act of kindness? Maybe a stranger smiled at you in the grocery line, or opened a door for you, or let you go first after a stop sign. Or perhaps you heard from an old friend, calling you just because. A hug, a genuine question about your day, or simply the gift of listening -- all of these acts have power.

Rabbi Hillel* famously said,
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" There's so much that can be read into a quote like that, but let me offer this interpretation through the lens of kindness. Performing kindness (e.g. self-care) for yourself is a genuine form of kindness for the world. And likewise, acting in kindness for others is also a boon to one's own soul.

In that spirit, I offer this request. All I want for my birthday (Oct 23) this year is to put a dose of kindness into the world. And I need your help. If we ea…