It seems like it should be simple to be kind. After all, to be kind, we don’t have to perform extraordinary acts, give away large sums of money, or make huge sacrifices. Kindness is a much cozier, more approachable concept, as simple as offering a smile, a few genuine words of compassion, or a listening ear.
Why does that feel so hard sometimes?
I’ve been thinking about kindness a lot since I wrote the post here. Actively attempting to perform acts of kindness, rather than waiting for an opportunity to present itself has proven to be more challenging than I expected, even though kindness has always been a value important to me. Many questions and decisions arise. How to be kind? Who needs kindness? What will be the best thing to do for them? What about the man on the corner holding up the sign? What about the emails in my inbox wanting money for good causes, causes I believe in? What if someone takes advantage of me? This is a good chance to give up the illusion of control. I can’t know what’s in another’s heart, whether they’re taking advantage of me or not. I can know what’s in my heart.
I still have a lot to learn, but here are a few conclusions I’ve drawn after two weeks of deliberately trying to practice kindness:
Become aware. Maybe this is for me alone, but I tend to walk around in my own little world, consumed by my thoughts and imaginings. I’m sure I miss opportunities to be kind simply because I’m oblivious. I’m making more of an effort to pay attention to what’s happening around me, actively seeking ways to be kind, listening more closely to friends and family. What you notice multiplies—noticing opportunities to be kind has opened my eyes to more opportunities.
Start small and close. Be kind to your loved ones. Think about what you do for your family as kind actions, not requirements. There are a few chores around my home that I truly dislike (and sometimes resent). When I think about them as kind actions for people I love, I’m much less irritated by them (the chores and the people). Also think about what acts of kindness come easily to you—maybe you love baking and sharing your creations with others, or you’re great at finding exactly the right words of encouragement. Start there.
Use your words. Phrases as simple as please, thank you, can I help? might be just what someone needs to hear. Consider your tone of voice, too. How many arguments start over tone of voice rather than words themselves?
Fill your well. It’s hard to be kind to others when you’re unkind to yourself. Meet your needs for rest, nourishment (physical, mental, and spiritual), pleasure, and adventure. Don’t be stingy with yourself so that you have something to draw from to be kind to others.
Follow your heart. When you have a kind impulse, follow it. When faced with a choice, ask, “What would be the kind thing to do?”
Retain your boundaries. Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat. Kindness is not “niceness,” bending your desires to suit someone else’s agenda.
Kindness sometimes feels awkward and scary. Putting yourself out there makes you feel vulnerable, offering a gift that might be rejected or misunderstood. It’s a risk you’ll have to take if you value kindness and want to bring more of it into your life. Start small, and see where it takes you.