Thursday, August 8, 2013

"God damn it, you've got to be kind."

Being kind isn't always easy, for lots of reasons.  Two main reasons (revenge-seeking behavior, and attention-seeking behavior) seem to be the most common kindness-obstacles that I face.  I don't necessarily have the answers, but I have thought of some questions.  These are the things I'm asking myself when these situations arise.

Someone has been unkind to you: Maybe a stranger has rudely cut you off in traffic, or worse -- stolen from you, or victimized you or a loved one in some other way. Maybe a family member or friend disregarded you, or made you feel insulted or unloved.  When someone is unkind to you, why should you feel or show any kindness to them?

I love the quote that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die.  Whose mind do all these hateful and negative preoccupations live in?  Yours, and only yours.  Awareness (aka the mind) is like a huge empty field: you can hold whatever you want in there!  Do you really want to fill up your awareness with anger, negativity, and unkind thoughts? These thoughts raise your stress level, thereby lowering your Total Body Happiness.  Instead, here's a game plan for what to do when someone is unkind to you:
  1. Evaluate the perceived unkindness.  On your journey to mindfulness, learn to be aware of what you're doing, and the consequences that your actions have on others. You also must realize that others might not be as aware of themselves as you're learning to be. Was their hurtful action intentional? Was it intended to harm you personally? People say and do a lot of things without "thinking." Try not to be insulted when someone doesn't instinctively realize they've hurt you.  Only certain very gifted people can read minds. :)
  2. To vent or not to vent?  That is the question.  Yelling profanity out the window may yield little benefit, and could put you in a dangerous situation.  Singing out a string of swears in your car, on the other hand, might release some of the tension you feel and make you laugh.  Try, "I will fart on your mother, you scum-sucking snake!" (When you're venting, steer clear of racial slurs; those are seeds of violence and hate -- plus why be cliche when you could be original?) Then, move on -- and that is key.  Remember, mindfulness is about staying in the present moment without judgement. See things for what they are: if you're alive, you're okay.  Redirect your attention to something calming and appreciate what there is to appreciate: a good song on the radio, the sunset beyond your windshield, the fact that you are taking lots of lovely breaths without even having to think about it.
  3. Evaluate the benefit of voicing your feelings to a family member or friend.  Sometimes it's worthwhile to talk to the person about how their actions made you feel; other times it's not.  If you think talking about it will produce understanding between you and the other person, and prevent the situation from happening again so frequently, then tell them how you feel in a non-accusatory way. We have to establish our boundaries with other people: it's possible the person does not know when they've crossed the line with you, emotionally, because everyone's different.  However, if this person continually crosses the line, and projects negative emotions compulsively, it's a good bet that they won't completely change as a result of your feedback.  In that case, you may want to save your breath.  
  4. Keep an open heart.  Keeping an open heart doesn't mean making yourself a doormat, ready to be stepped on and sullied with the dirt of everyone who would choose to wipe their feet on you.  It means not carrying around anger.  When your heart is open, emotions flow in and out of it, just as breath flows in and out of your body. Try to find compassion for the person who has wronged you. "She is criticizing me because she thinks I can take it.  She perceives me as strong, and perhaps she feels weak.  Perhaps she is trying to increase her strength by diminishing mine. It must be exhausting and hellish for her to feel that way."  There are a wide variety of things that could be going on in someone else's experience that would cause them to be negative toward you. The second you even start to attempt to find compassion for them, you'll notice that you feel less anger.  But once you've put yourself in their shoes, you don't have to stay there.  People have all kinds of problems: some of them will never be fixed, and even fewer of them will be fixed by you.  If you're dealing with someone who consistently treats you with unkindness, pray for their happiness -- from afar if you have to.  Cultivate your own happiness, whatever it takes.  
Is it boring to be kind?  We live in a culture of tabloid rumors and extreme closeups.  Societally speaking, people seem eager to discuss everybody else's flaws and shortcomings.  You don't have to buy tabloid magazines or watch TMZ to be part of that.  Most of us have friends who like to pick other people apart, for comedic sport.  Some of us even take part in this ourselves.
  • What do you do when you're in a social situation where the tone of conversation among others is consistently negative or derogatory?  Personally, I find that incredibly boring and unpleasant, but lots of people seem to find it funny. The bottom line is, people who put other people down are unhealthy to be around.  You will find yourself repeating their behavior to participate in the conversation. Your mind might even begin to look for other people's flaws as compulsively as your friends do.  This is not a worthy use of your time or attention.  Focus on the positive. Should you try to defend everyone that your friends verbally attack behind others' backs, and attempt to squelch their negativity with kindness? You can try, and I wish you luck! People who exhibit compulsively negative behavior are often not open and receptive to changing, just because you point out the good in what, or who, they're criticizing. Sometimes it's best to walk away.  Consider the steps: 
    • Is the person even aware of the implications of their actions? 
    • What is really behind their negativity? 
    • Will telling them how you feel improve the situation?  
    • If this is the way they often behave, do you need to distance yourself from this person? 
  • What do you do if you notice that you are constantly criticizing others?  Ask yourself the same questions.  Consider how what you say affects other people.  Remember that other people are just as complex, important, and worthy of understanding as you are.  If it's just a bad habit you need to break, then educate yourself to find better things to talk about. There are plenty of critical, interesting conversations to be had.  If you can't think of any, consider broadening your horizons by learning something new, reading more, listening to news radio, and/or taking your head out of your ass and observing the world around you. If you feel consistently irritated by something someone says or does, remember that it's not always your responsibility to tell them what you think.  Try to figure out if there's a deeper cause of your irritation. Relationships are difficult, but they become easier when you take responsibility for yourself instead of dumping all your feelings onto others.  You have a responsibility to behave as kindly as possible, and if you find that impossible, then you have a responsibility to accept that chronic negativity and putting down others is a problem that you need to solve, for the benefit of yourself and those around you.  
Kindness is like mindfulness: you don't just arrive at it one day and stay there. You have to consistently cultivate kindness for it to stay alive. Every time you are challenged with the temptation to be unkind, whether it's motivated by the company you keep or feelings from inside you, you have an opportunity to stop, breathe, and choose your behavior.

Treating other people negatively will never benefit you.  People who laugh at your jokes about other people, or who feign interest at the negative things you have to say about others, will keep you at a distance because they know that no one is exempt from your criticism. Decide what kind of person you want to be and consistently keep that inspiration as your primary focus.  It's not always easy, but it's always worthwhile.

My goal is to be consistently kind.  I hope that will increase my happiness, as well as the kindness and happiness of those around me... and if it doesn't, my heart will remain open to you -- from afar!

One last point: as in Vonnegut's quote (pictured above) don't take yourself too seriously, and keep your sense of humor intact as often as humanly possible.  I am learning to let more things go, and the result is that I find myself being offended much less.  Almost everyone is doing the best they can, and most people are not trying to hurt you.  Cut others a little slack, and if they really don't deserve any, try killing them with kindness.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Have you ever known someone who is compulsively negative? What challenges do you face when it comes to being kind? Are you part of a community of kind and caring people?  

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