Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. Henry James
Kindness costs nothing – how often do we hear that? That’s because it’s true. So there’s no reason to be stingy with it; on the contrary, we could try doing all we can to create a lot more kindness in the world.
Plato said: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. Does considering others’ lives from that perspective make you feel more kindly disposed towards them?
Could it be that kindness starts with you? I’m not sure; I know people who are quite self-critical yet who are capable of showing the utmost kindness to others.
Is it about feeling deserving of kindness, then? And if you don’t believe that you deserve kindness, can you wholeheartedly believe that anyone else does?
Are you kind to yourself? Or do you berate yourself for all of your shortcomings? How is that working out for you?
I wasn’t kind to myself after making a mistake that had catastrophic consequences; I mentally and emotionally beat myself up until I became physically ill. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that being hard on myself (understatement) for years, for what boiled down to fallible human behaviour, caused my immune system to start attacking the healthy tissue in my body.
It was counsellor number three who told me I had to start cutting myself some slack, but although intellectually I understood what she meant, emotionally I was unable to practice what she preached. The self-hatred continued, with debilitating consequences. It took another couple of years and a CBT therapist’s intervention to get me to even begin to consider stopping punishing myself for having been misled by a psychopath. And I still had a lot of resistance; the idea of affording myself compassion made me squirm.
(N.B. You don’t have to be suffering from PTSD to struggle with self-care and kindness; it’s more common than you’d think)
An exercise (devised by psychologist Deborah A. Lee) given to me by my therapist involved creating my ‘perfect nurturer’. A perfect nurturer can be an actual person or an invented character; the important thing is that they accept you, flaws and all, and can be called upon whenever needed to soothe and support you. The details of your perfect nurturer are less important than their ability to make you feel cared for – nurtured.
I eventually managed to dream up a suitable character – a fairy godmother based loosely on Daphne Fowler from the BBC2 quiz programme, Eggheads. My ‘Daphne’ ‘had my back’, and I gradually internalised that sense of having a nurturing relationship which enabled me to treat myself with kindness rather than hostility. Only then was I able to address the reality that I’d gone to extreme lengths to isolate myself.
The human race is interdependent; in The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert reminds us that:
…we have to recognise something very fundamental about ourselves – we are a species that has evolved to thrive on kindness and compassion. The challenge here is to recognise the importance of kindness and affection and place them at the centre of our relationship with ourselves, with others and with the world. So ask yourself: Have you really put warmth, gentleness, kindness, support and compassion at the centre of how you relate to yourself and the way in which you try to help yourself through life’s tragedies? Have you put those qualities at the centre of your relationships with others, even people you don’t like very much?
Another way to foster compassion for self and others is to learn the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness, the essence of which is:
Even as a mother protects with her life.
Her child, her only child.
So with a boundless heart.
Should one cherish all living beings.
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths.
An article on mindful.org suggests 18 science-based reasons to practice loving-kindness and includes a short loving-kindness meditation. If you are unable to wish the best for your adversaries, then it is possible that there is something in your psyche that needs to heal.
There seems to be a trend to promote kindness worldwide. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation wants to make 2016 the year of kindness; there is also Kindspring, a global movement for kindness. Both of these websites contain stories of kind acts carried out by people all over the earth, as well as ideas about how you can spread more kindness in the world.
Seneca said: Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.
What are you waiting for?