Tag Archives: community

Deliberate Kindness

“Set aside personal interest and act for the common good.”

This phrase, one of many provocative thoughts from the various texts I have read this week, has occupied my mind more than others.

“Set aside personal interest?”

That’s the problem right there. For most of our lives, we learn to fend for ourselves, to build careers, to attain a secure and cozy lifestyle, to build savings accounts that will sustain us in old age. All of this is self-centered.

Of course, self-preservation is a deeply rooted and essential survival instinct, but our education model expands it into a far-reaching and often distorted fabric. It expands it to something outside of ourselves, something that isolates us in the midst of community and neighbors, instead of weaving it into a huge, warm blanket to share. Outside of tragedies and occasional, shared trauma, our survival instinct is mostly connected to some ideal outcome or future.

An image comes to mind: We stand in a crowd, at a community picnic, and though we honestly try to mingle, our gaze reaches above the sea of faces to some distant horizon. We savor the moment, yet our inner eye is turned to the future.

In addition to this, we often define “common good” as something we embrace on the side, when immediate responsibilities (real and perceived) allow; when there is time, money or an emergency. Very few of us master the art of placing common good at the center of our lives. Those who do stand out in the crowd. They see as far as the horizon and beyond, yet they are fully present, radiant, human and humane. Perhaps even fearless.

How do we set aside personal interest on a daily basis in a world that would have us so dedicated to personal success and safety; so tied to the next paycheck; so concerned with ensuring our own comfort and longevity; so afraid of sickness, death and, perhaps worst of all, real and imagined enemies?

Maybe we only attain this in small increments, whenever we are willing to take risks on behalf of others. Obviously, we cannot all quit our jobs to go work for some charitable organization, but we can certainly make room for a more charitable outlook in all that we do.

Then, the guiding question becomes: “How do I make my work and my life an act of charity?”

The answer is far from simple. It requires we become a bit more creative and a lot less competitive.

The task is enormous and overwhelming. However, it would seem there is one small, easy thing we can do that may very well provide the tipping point: Become kindhearted, in every moment.

Ours is an aggressive lifestyle. We chase after time, money, success, recognition; even leisure. What would it mean to seek all of this with a deliberately kinder heart?

We’d be standing in a crowd, at that community picnic, suddenly losing interest in the distant horizon and shifting our gaze back to distinct faces… and suddenly being able to listen. Funny thing is, after a while, all faces might turn to the horizon after all, gazing in the same direction, in unison.

We all dream of grand vacations, perhaps on a distant beach, listening to nothing but the waves and seagulls. We long for silence, not realizing that it is not merely the outside noise we wish to lose, but our own inner dialogue.

Maybe true, restful silence is this: To truly listen for the first time. Then, we are on the same wavelength. Of the same mind. Of the same kind. Of kindness. All of us bear a message, in spite of ourselves. Deliberate kindness is the tuning fork.

On my table: Heart Messengers on their way home (5.5″).

 

The Fabric Of Climate Change

Today, we are blessed with yet another uncommonly warm and beautiful November day. A raven greets the sun in the distance. The restaurant across the street is filling fast for brunch. There is no indication that anything is amiss, and yet.

Changes simmer and tempers flare as some members of the community proposed a public display of art that does not meet the approval of all. Our online public forum has seen its share of angry and passionate comments in favor and against the project. Accusations fly. Words that may have been spoken in the privacy of small groups in the past now find release for all to see in social media forums.

To be honest, I have taken part in this sort of exchange in the past. To be honest, I hated myself for it. Today, I hate reading it from others. No. Let me rephrase that. It makes me sad. And thus I needed to untangle a few threads of thoughts before I get back to my sewing.

Needle and thread

How would things shift if we made it a point to believe that what matters most is to find ways to encourage others when they are deeply engaged in new ideas, even ideas we do not embrace ourselves? Our entire language would have to change. We would not discourage a new idea, but rather encourage a different approach.

How would things shift if our first thought were not to identify how negatively someone else’s idea might affect us? What if we decided that while their ideas and process may differ from what we believe is best, there is always the possibility that the outcome will be surprisingly good?

Our first reaction is to feel we have been wronged. What if our first reaction were to readily welcome new ideas simply because they challenge us to think outside of the box? We get bored so easily.

Ever notice how we choose to be angry? In all honesty, we do. On the other hand, connection is not a choice. It flows naturally when we are on the same wavelength. Ever notice how a mere difference of opinion can cut the flow? The only difference is that we stop seeing the person in front of us and start dwelling in our own beliefs. Then, we turn angry and see the other person even less. Then, they turn defensive and blind as well. Just saying this feels like an entire horizon just collapsed. And it did.

Surely our connection with neighbors, even those with grand or somewhat disruptive ideas, still offers the possibility of willing kindness.

Does this mean we must agree with everyone? No. It does not even mean we have to like everyone. But it seems we owe it to ourselves to act and speak kindly for no other reason than that we are neighbors.

We speak passionately of reducing our negative impact on the planet. We worry about climate change and care about our legacy. How about climate change across fences?

How can we succeed if we keep blowing up at each other? This is just war at another level, multiplied as every angry voice echoes across every square foot of every community. There is nothing wrong with heartfelt anger, but there is a choice about how we express it. We’re always only a moment of silence and a kinder choice of words away from true climate change. And it’s a two-way street.

I know every single person in my community would bend over backward for a neighbor in need; even a neighbor whose ideas and behavior drives them nuts. This point of connection is the only one that matters. What if it shaped every word we speak? I know I need to remember this as much as anyone else.

Gotta get back to work…