“R U Kind’? The license plate on the SUV ahead of me at the stop light said.
It took me off guard.
“I don’t know, am I?” I thought. I’d like to think so, but when I reflected on what it really means to be kind, I worried that I might not be. What does it even mean to be kind? And if I don’t know that, how can I recognize it in others, let alone in myself?
As someone who grew up in an environment where I was challenged to always be better yet mocked if I fell short of perfection, I have never learned to be sympathetic and compassionate with myself. I feared that maybe I lacked something intrinsic that would allow me to be kind to others.
The Bing Dictionary says kindness is the ability to behave kindly: the practice of being, or the tendency to be, sympathetic and compassionate, an act that shows consideration and caring. Ah – OK. I can work with this definition – but what does it mean in real life?
I don’t hesitate to jump in and help others. Just this morning, I became a warrior-advocate for my son’s friend’s family whose home and business were impacted by a mudslide over the weekend. I donated money on their Go Fund Me site. I wrote a blog post. I posted on Facebook.
I also, this morning, made disparaging remarks about the way my belly sticks out and my middle-aged skin crinkles. I wouldn’t treat a friend, or even my son’s friend, so poorly. So why would I treat myself so unkindly?
One day, while waiting in line at Target, the woman in front of me told me to go ahead of her since I only had a couple of items and she had a full cart. The young couple ahead of her did the same. I felt a warm rush of pleasure at their kindness. I felt guilty too. Here they were, unloading diapers and wipes onto the conveyer belt. Surely they have children to get home to, while I was picking up a card for my husband for our anniversary. Why should I go first?
Today I’m thinking why shouldn’t I go first? Why shouldn’t I allow myself to accept kindness gratefully and graciously? Perhaps by observing the kindness of others, I can begin to recognize kindness in myself. Maybe accepting the kindness of others is, in itself, an act of kindness, as we begin to recognize ourselves as deserving, valuable human beings with enormous capacity to give – and receive – kindness.
Recently, I saw two older women emptying bags of bread at the duck pond by my office. “How sweet,” I thought to myself. And then I saw the old gentleman in the car, waiting with the windows open and the car running, watching the pair as they distributed their bounty to the eager ducks. I wondered why he was not participating. And then I got it – he WAS participating. He had taken time out of his day to chauffer these two to the duck pond, waited patiently, perhaps taking pleasure in watching them. Truly it is an act of kindness to enable another act of kindness.
What I see now is that kindness comes in many forms. It does not have to cost money or even a lot of time. And it doesn’t even have to involve other people. It begins with showing compassion and caring to ourselves. Understanding that everyone, even ourselves, is deserving of receiving compassion. This awareness brings its own reward, and, by understanding our own value, we will truly appreciate the value of kindness and be able to readily pass it on.