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Do you have the resources to perform acts of kindness?

Last week, I found myself sitting in a fancy boardroom in midtown Manhattan. A group of about twenty well-dressed white men and two women were meeting with me to discuss matters of corporate strategy, for the nonprofit healthcare system I am consulting with.

As we talked through anticipated state budget cuts to Medicaid and the difficulty of serving that program, I gazed out the window from time to time. Thirty-five stories below us, we could find the people who would be impacted by these decisions. Sure, this was only one nonprofit healthcare system among many. But collectively, we represented the decision makers, and others had to live by our decisions. There was no Medicaid recipient who would speak up for the program; there was no elderly person living in one of the organization's nursing homes would lend their perspective; there was no person from a homeless shelter who could say what they needed, what would help their situation most.

It was seven o'clock in the evening,…
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Why don't we follow the teachings of the great thinkers who have come before us?

Do you ever pause from an act of creation and think, what's the point of this? Someone has already written a better poem or essay or blog post. Others have painted better portraits or crafted better knickknacks or knit better scarves. I can get a dress on Amazon for less money than I will spend on the fabric, and the craftmanship will be better too. Why create?
I think this all the time. The logical conclusion is not an optimistic one: why do anything, because it's all been done before, and better, by others?
In particular, to our point here, all the writing on kindness and love has been written and rewritten and translated and adapted for every age, every people.
We have Moses. We have the Buddha. We have Jesus Christ. We have modern writers and gurus and leaders of all kinds.
The teachings are there, sitting on our dusty shelves or buried deep in our subconscious.
Have we listened?
Have we truly understood these teachings from these great saints and leaders?
And if we have …

Things You'll Never Hear Anyone Say

As I was sitting at a busy lunch spot in Manhattan yesterday, I overheard many different snippets of conversations. Themes included: "I can't believe that so-and-so did this..." "It really sucks to work there because..." "If only [insert almost anything here] were different, then [insert future happy outcome here]."

I listened with curiosity, and considered the contrapositive of these statements. Here is an abbreviated list, which I am titling "Things that you'll never hear spoken aloud because people will never say them." Usually people won't even think these statements - at most, these could be a dark glimmer on the horizon of understanding.

My boss won't trust me, which is why I don't know the answer to that question.  In my relationship, problems are due mostly to me.  I'm not just wrong, I probably am ignorant of the history / context of the underlying issue.  I could greatly improve my life if I got up off my ass an…

A very merry Christmas and a kind New Year

Our Christmas was filled to overflowing with indulgences of all kinds - rich food and drink, neverending dessert selections, presents. Could we properly enjoy any of it? And yet, this is a timeworn observation. Christmas, no matter how pleasant the times with family and friends, can simply manifest as yet another outgrowth of the need to consume.

It's eminently human, of course, to have these needs. To want creature comforts. To share a nice meal with the ones you love. To have a nip of bourbon and a slice of chocolate cake - what's wrong with that? To exchange carefully chosen, even modest presents - again, is there an issue here?

Absolutely nothing is wrong with any of these things, in and of themselves. The problem is when these are the only focus of the holiday.

Be honest. Did you think about the needy this Christmas? A fleeting thought, or something more substantial? This is not a character indictment. This is a chance for legitimate spiritual growth and contemplation.

L…

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…

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 …