Kindness is a choice. A day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath choice. This week in the kindness challenge, we were tasked to observe kindness around us. I live in Portland, a friendly, welcoming city. People stop 20 feet away from a crosswalk to let mom’s with young kids in tow safely cross the street. People go out of their way to help at the homeless camps scattered throughout the city. Not too long ago a stranger rang my doorbell and asked for the flowers that had fallen to the ground in my garden. He could easily have just taken them, but he took the time to ask.
In my home recently, one daughter secretly made the other’s bed, instead of complaining that the job wasn’t done. When one girl broke her beloved watch, her sister fixed it without a squabble. Not too long ago, when my son twisted his ankle, his concerned youngest sister went, of her own volition, and fetched the crutches from their storage place.
But what is kindness? In it’s basic form, kindness is the compassionate use of time. Taking the time to notice the needs of another, and then investing a little more time to turn that notice into action. Some ways that have occurred to me this week:
The lonely person that needs to be heard: Somewhere in our lives is a person who is lonely. Maybe it is due to age or sickness. Maybe it is due to poor life choices driving others away. But deep in our innermost hearts everyone yearns to be heard and understood. There is a person, closely linked to my life, who is lonely. Mostly it is due to walls he has put up and a propensity for criticism and negativity that tends to drive people away. Yet underneath all the wounds and bitterness is a soul that longs to connect, to be accepted, to be loved. For me the challenge this week was to listen to what he had to say. To value him as an individual who was worth my time and energy. To accept instead of react.
Setting Boundaries: Showing kindness to others (and to myself) means learning to set healthy boundaries. This can mean many things depending on the relationship. In my personal case, I am learning to show kindness by setting boundaries that help me to develop a positive relationship with the difficult person in my life. Without boundaries I either become downtrodden under the criticism and negativity of another ,or react emotionally, which doesn’t help either of us to learn and grow.
Identify a Need and Find a way to Meet It: When there is a lack in our lives, and someone or something unexpectedly fills it, we are flooded with kindness. In the case of my relational challenge: The person close to me has a need to feel loved, valued, and heard. I have a need to protect myself and my children from a barrage of negativity and criticism. For 20 years I have kept my distance from this person because I did not have the tools to build the relationship, nor, frankly, did I desire to do so. Now that a huge geographical buffer no longer stands between us, I either need to learn ways to interact with this person in a safe and healthy way or make a pretty drastic break in the relationship all together. In order to meet his needs I need to first meet my own and those of my family. Only when we are well buffered emotionally by setting clear standards of acceptable behavior, are we in the place to meet his needs by spending time with him and being emotionally available to truly listen.
Taking An Interest: Simply taking an interest in the passions or problems of another may be a huge act of kindness. To truly listen to someone we must genuinely care about what they have to say. A person who longs to be heard may not want to talk about something we care about. But because we care about the person we care about what they have to say. Taking an interest in others generally means speaking less and listening more. Pay careful attention and reflect back what was said so that the individual knows you have processed their point of view and no longer feels unheard.
Make the Effort of Inclusion: Lonely people are often left feeling uninvited or not included. Sometimes this is truly of their choosing, but it often stings anyway. Again, boundaries play a huge role here. In my personal situation I often hesitate to proffer an invitation because I fear the criticism that may come along with the individual. I can either live in fear or set the expectation that the person is welcome but criticism is not. It is my responsibility, a kindness to myself and my immediate family, to clearly and lovingly express how critical and negative comments hurt us, and then leave the ball in the other court.
Accept the Person As They Are: As many have said before me, we can’t control another person’s behavior, but only our reaction to it. No one likes to be viewed as a project. I must try to practice unconditional acceptance of the challenging person in my life. I may not love the behavior, but I love the person.
Matthew 22:39 sums it all up, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we have never learned to love ourselves we can never truly love others. If we have never learned to be kind to ourselves we have blinders on and miss the goodness and kindness in others.
How has kindness entered your life this week? Have you seen it in others or experienced it yourself? Please share in the comments below.
#7 Day Daily Post Challenge: Day 3