“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama
I like to think that I am a kind person. I do try. I have to try as my underlying nature is somewhat dark, more than a little cynical and highly sarcastic. Despite this — or maybe because of it — I go out of my way to be kind. Kind to others certainly, but also kind to myself…
I have learned that kindness is the essential ingredient in crafting a joyful life.
I believe that human beings are inherently kind, that kindness is in our genetic makeup, even if there are other factors also in our DNA — think selfishness, jealousy, and laziness—that sometime interfere with our ability to manifest kindness. Even small acts of kindness can produce big results. Kindness multiplies, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond the original event.
So, if kindness such a powerful force for good, then why aren’t we kind all the time?
For one thing, kindness requires interaction, an exchange between giver and receiver, with unpredictable consequences. To do a kindness, we have to expose ourselves to the possibility that our kindness may be rejected or misinterpreted. And going out on a limb isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
Another reason is that we tend to become more protective as we get older—of ourselves, our children, our homes — especially if we’ve ever experienced any kind of unkindness directed at us or our loved ones. The more we learn of the world, the more heavily we tend to guard our hearts against it.
We live in a competitive society; it’s difficult to be kind to others when kindness is often mistaken for weakness, and the conventional wisdom of the day is look out for ourselves. We grow tough out of self-preservation. While toughness and kindness aren’t exact opposites, they are often mutually exclusive.
Lastly, the sad truth is that we may become immune to the plight of others (perhaps immune is too strong a word—maybe we simply become less outraged). If empathy is the spark for kindness, indifference is surely what snuffs it out.
Charles Darwin believed that a human being’s capacity for kindness was instrumental to his evolutionary success. I believe this, too. Meaning, the clan that took care of its old people gained the evolutionary advantage of wisdom. The tribe that took care of its sick gained the evolutionary advantage of strength in numbers. The ruler that took care of his weakest followers gained the evolutionary advantage of loyalty. The millions of unrecorded acts of kindness throughout history came from a place of benevolence, compassion, community, and altruism inherent in the human genome. And that it was these qualities, which together we call kindness, that became our armor against the elements. Kindness was our great defense weapon, an invisible shield behind which we were able to survive against all the other bigger, stronger, faster creatures that wanted to eat us.
So, if we have a genetic predisposition for kindness, but don’t always exercise the option, can we still consider ourselves kind?
The thing with kindness is that to be kind, we have to do kind. The more kindness we expend, the kinder we become. Practice, in the case of kindness, makes perfect. Here’s what I find most touching: that we human beings continue to practice kindness despite the inherent difficulties we have with it. If kindness were easy, everyone would fucking do it. And we know not everyone does.
But enough people do to make us proud. Even more people want to, which makes us hopeful. We are kind because we choose to be. Evolution marches on. And so does human kindness.
I’m striving to get to a different place in my relationship with kindness. It’s less about the practicing of kindness than about reveling in the sheer joy of it. There is a genuine happiness I feel upon making others happy. Once experienced, that’s a powerful feeling for anyone, but for me it’s intoxicating. What’s more, it’s of my own making, something I can control. I’m learning to be brave about being kind. I’m working to give kindness without reserve and accept it without question. I want to be unselfconscious about it, and proud of it. I want to do good and, even more importantly, I want the people in my life to do good, too.
Oh, I know there are assholes and bullies out there, and I’m not about to negate the real issues at play in those anti-kindness personalities. But I think those people are the aberration, not the norm. I think the majority of us are—or have the potential to be—warriors of kindness. We’re all just waiting to be given a voice, a platform, a venue, and maybe even some inspiration to let our kindness shine.
If you're looking for some inspiration to let your kindness shine, I'd love to help!