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Willow Tree’s Gift is IndieReader Approved!

Willow Tree’s Gift, by Sebastian A. Barnes has been reviewed by IndieReader!

IndieReader is a powerful community for independently published authors to promote and share their work. I am grateful to write that my novel for young adults, Willow Tree’s Gift, has been rated 4 out of 5 Stars. With a final verdict from the reviewer:

Not since Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM has a supposed animal “fairy tale” so clearly and effectively imparted a message for all.

To see the full review, check out the IndieReader website.
IR Sticker Approved Sticker

Kindness Prologue

The story behind the story of the Willow Tree’s Gift…
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The Willow Tree’s Gift is a story about kindness. This topic is personal to me, and I learned through my research on kindness in history, religion, philosophy and sociology that more unites us than divides us. However today it feels there is more divisiveness than ever. This divisiveness can feel scary, so we retreat to places where we feel safe, like our communities. There we are comforted, so much so that we also sometimes shun or even fear other communities, simply because they are different than our own.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I believe the barriers we create by our communities are imaginary. I believe almost everyone is good, but not everyone knows how to be kind. This is because kindness is taught and is a conscious act to help end others’ suffering, regardless of the community we belong. And if that isn’t possible, at least do no harm. This was the book’s genesis. It isn’t intended to be an instruction on kindness, but by better understanding how our attachments influence us, it hopefully instills a lesson.

The protagonist, the little mouse doll, woke one night beneath a willow tree before a storm. The willow tree is in a meadow between two communities: the forest and the farm. Yet, the doll is neither living nor inanimate, a forest or a farm animal: he can never belong to these communities, or anywhere, simply for being what he is. And yet, there is magic to him, like a sunrise or the infinite starry night. It is the kind of magic that makes us accept our place amongst all things; wonders colossal and insignificant, impossible and practical, alive and not. His magic is kindness.

This story is about belonging, differences and why they matter at all. It is about loving ourselves and knowing we’ll always belong when we do. It is about falling in love when it seems impossible, making friends when we least expect it, and standing up for what is right no matter how frightening it may seem.

This story lets us view the world through the polished button eyes of the little mouse doll, challenges our preconceived notions, does so with awe, and sees each moment as a gift when we cherish kindness. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed sharing it.

Sebastian A. Barnes
Author of the Willow Tree’s Gift
Discover it now

Willow Tree’s Gift, Chapter Two: Wonder

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An excerpt from Willow Tree’s Gift, Chapter Two: Wonder. In this chapter you are introduced to the novel’s protagonist. Enjoy…

His button eyes came to life. They didn’t blink or flutter as they looked at the dark meadow. They couldn’t. They were polished buttons sown to a cloth head. They could only gaze at the bright full moon and the twinkling lights of the infinite starry night.

“How?” He asked the stars. They didn’t answer.

He looked above and saw a dark green canopy of drooping leaves. They slowly swayed. His polished button eyes watched their gentle rhythm. Carved into the trunk far above him was a heart. He leaned back and bumped his soft, cloth head against the coarse bark of the willow tree.

“Ouch,” he squeaked at the willow tree although it didn’t hurt much.

He lifted his small cloth arm to rub the back of his head, , instead caught it on a large, fabric ear. His ears were too large to stand on their own. When he touched them, they came to life too, and he heard crickets chirping, frogs calling and the wind rustling through tall grass.

“Wow,” he said to the crickets and the frogs and the wind.

He twitched his fluffy nose at the sounds and it also came to life. He smelled the dewy grass and the faint blossoms. His polished button eyes scanned the meadow to match sight and smell. His stitched mouth curled to smile. He then sensed a new smell. It smelled like fur and dirt, but he couldn’t find it.

“What is this?” He asked the phantom smell. It didn’t answer.

His cloth legs stirred and he stood. His limbs wobbled. They were almost too small to lift his round cloth body. As he stammered a thistle caught onto his yarn tail.

“Stop it,” he said to the thistle.

He grabbed his yarn tail to fling the thistle away, but it was latched tight. He pawed it only to catch it on his cloth arm. He pawed at it with his other arm, but it only got caught again. It clung to his ears, limbs and nose until it became loosely fastened to his purple bowtie and finally rolled to the ground. He looked at the thistle.

“Oh, how pleasant,” he said to his purple bowtie and walked into the tall grass.

He found a lake and its water was dark and still. He stopped at its edge to look at his reflection. He was a little mouse doll, larger than a child’s hand, but small enough to fit in a child’s pocket.

“Why?” He asked the lake. It didn’t answer.

He must’ve stared at his reflection for a long time, for the moon slowly drifted across the sky. The little mouse doll didn’t think about anything in particular, only the thought of being able to think at all, and what it meant, if anything, that he could. He was interrupted by a low growl and the smell of fur and dirt. He turned and saw a tabby cat. The cat was crouched, his pale eyes squinted at the doll, and a blue scarf was tied around his neck.

“Hello,” the doll said. The tabby cat with the blue scarf pounced.

Novel: Willow Tree’s Gift, Available End of July!

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I am pleased to announce a project that has been sixteen months in the making: the upcoming release of my next novel, “Willow Tree’s Gift.” It is a story about kindness, belonging, differences and why they matter. It is a story about communities, and how they influence us to see the world as a kind or a cruel place. And it is a story about a little mouse doll who wakes one night beneath a willow tree before a storm.
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Enjoy the full synopsis. The book will be released on Amazon end of July…

Is this world cruel or kind? Does your community shape this belief? Do you fear other communities?

The little mouse doll woke one night beneath a willow tree before a storm. The willow tree is in a meadow between two communities, and the little mouse doll doesn’t belong to either. One community is the farm that is controlled by the farmer. The farmer suffers because his child is terminally ill, and the farm animals suffer because of the farmer’s will. The other community is the forest, which is full of fright and a place of mystery and peril. It is home to monstrous beasts like owls, foxes and snakes. And within the forest is a hidden secret. These two communities fear each other.

But the little mouse doll doesn’t understand this fear, not because he can’t get scared, but because fear never taught him to stop being who he is.

This is a story about kindness, belonging, differences and why they matter at all. The little mouse doll makes friends, some enemies, falls in love, and vows to help the dying farmer’s child. But to do that he needs to learn the forest’s secret. And to learn it he must discover how truly kind or cruel the world is.

Imagine what it’s like…

Sunset
…to watch a sunset, and know it’s your last. Would you curse it, as you would a life-ending disease, detesting the flaring colors across the horizon, like an extinguishing candle in slow motion? Would you blame the sun for not being there for you tomorrow, for there would be no tomorrow for you to have? Or would you gently greet that slow downwardly sun, soak in its colors in celebration of all the sunsets you lived before, and like a firework, end your day with exclamation?

You choose what your sunsets mean, and can choose to appreciate the moment you are in, from your first sunrise until your last sunset, and every day in between.

What is it about a storm…

Storm
…that comforts.

I like sunny days and the outdoors. But I like how I’m cozy in my quilts before I awake and greet the day much more.

And a storm, just like quilts, blankets the sky and shrouds the world in sanctuary.

Storms rain rejuvenation, cools the hot-headed, unwinds the stressed and soothes the troubled soul.

Bring me the lightning flash and thunderous roar.

It calls to me, like a choir calls to its congress, that all chaos, no matter how violent, will be conquered, and will return to calm.

My cat thinks he is a dog…

CatDog

…he knows there is a difference between a dog and a cat. And he knows what makes him what he is: sharp claws, soft fur, long whiskers, limber legs, rolling meows and rumbling purrs. But he doesn’t know how he plays is like a dog. He doesn’t know how he curls next to you immediately when you sit is like a dog. He doesn’t know how he seeks your attention with his companionship is like a dog. Nor does he know why such a difference matters. Or perhaps he isn’t capable. Perhaps he doesn’t possess the same self-awareness as people do, to reflect on why he acts like a dog and not like a cat.

Maybe that’s why he seems so happy all the time.

Curious Contradiction

By Chris Douglas

curiouscontradiction

Those moments when someone needs you to put your actions where your principles are, and you can think of a thousand reasons not to act anyway…

“I would only make things worse.”
“Someone else can assist better than me.”
“I have other responsibilities to take care of.”

Be wary of what inaction wishes for, for the world is what we make of it…

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#PrivilegeIsReal

lovewins
by Ariel and Sebastian Barnes

My youngest sister lives in New York City. I occasionally visit her, and it was one fall morning while we were heading to a coffee shop that she thanked me for walking with her. I reciprocated because I love her, but that wasn’t her point. The walk would’ve been different had I, a man who was six-foot-one and looks white, not been there. She explained one of the prices of being a woman is street harassment from disrespectful men. Sometimes it’s not words, just a long up-and-down look where she feels the person undressing her. It’s not something that will never go away for her, or for any woman, nor will it ever be something she’ll accept or get used to as the way things are.

This is not about empathy, for each person’s experiences are unique, and come with unique strife. As a man I will never truly understand my sister’s struggles because I will never be a woman, nor will I ever have to face the daily harassment, or the discomfort or worse that comes from when a man feels he is entitled to have her attention. This is about sympathy, to acknowledge no two experiences are the same, and the fortune of one does not negate the hardship of the other, because we don’t face the same challenges. Just because you cannot put yourself in another’s shoes doesn’t mean you can’t see that the shoes are different.

The narrative of privilege needs to be rewritten. I recently posted a topic on social media, how “privilege is when you consider something not a problem because it doesn’t directly impact you,” and received an objectively racist response from a follower stating white men don’t need to defend themselves. This empirically misses the point, but the essence of the response solidifies privilege’s negative connotation. The word isn’t meant to divide. The word isn’t meant to be a violent call-to-action and condemn those with more fortunate circumstances. And, the word isn’t meant to demand restitution. Privilege is something invisible to those who have it and it’s difficult to see without comparing it to another’s hardship. It’s foolish to feel guilty by admitting these differences exist, and it’s equally foolish to fear having to give something back because of it, even if it’s compassion. Yet this is the narrative, and it somehow creates a defensive dialog. And like a cornered animal, the yielding result will beget more misunderstanding, boundaries and apathy.

It’s not about apologizing for being a man, who is six-foot-one and looks white. No one should ever apologize for characteristics that cannot be controlled, or for the things he or she has worked tirelessly. But these things do mold one’s experiences, and grant opportunities easier to achieve than others. So, if we shouldn’t apologize for what we are or have, we should at least be able to acknowledge there is an invisible reason some of us have more than others who work just as hard.

Privilege underscores hardship when there is a difference in our experiences. These experiences are independent and not a zero-sum game. The fortune of a man not being harassed while walking down a street exists because a woman has that hardship, not the other way around. The privilege of one doesn’t create the harassment for the other, but the hardship for one certainty creates privilege. Remember, there can be a world where a man or a woman can walk down a street separately and not be assaulted.

The narrative of privilege needs be rewritten to one of awareness. To know your privilege and understand what it has given you compared to another, and to show understanding, if not compassion, when those differences bring about pain. Yes, pain, which influences emotions and psychology, hindering self-confidence and creating real, daily, tangible fear fueled by uncertainty brought about by those who refuse to accept that such pain exists. This new narrative should be a tool to acknowledge that one person’s pain is still real even if you will never face it because of who you are. But that requires mindfulness that may frighten some. To step outside our lives and see how others may live. It may be for a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger; do we dare for such kindness?

Perhaps this conversation can begin when we see #PrivilegeIsReal.

Kindness and Cruelty

Winter of Kindness Philosophy - ImageDuring the 90 days of our Winter of Kindness we explored nearly 200 concepts of kindness and cruelty. We asked ourselves daring and even scary questions, examining our behavior to see how we can be more ethical, mindful and make things better. It was a privilege to have this time with you and share these philosophies.

And remember…That is the true magic of it all. We do not know how we got here. We do not know how this story will unfold, nor do we know what happens after the final page has been written. All we can control is our behavior now, in this moment. Let’s make the best of it and become kindness.

Words of Kindness

50k Kindness Cloud (White)90 Days. 90 Entries. Nearly 200 ideas of kindness and cruelty shared. Over 50,000 words. These are the most commonly used concepts during winter of kindness. What do you see when you look at this image?

First Day of Spring

Week 13 - Post 90Our winter of kindness has ended, and today is the first day of spring.

Look outside, what do you see? For most of the world you will likely see melting snow. Frost’s sting has faded, the chill winds have calmed and warmed. The sun is becoming brighter, and the days, longer. The life that lay dormant beneath the white felt blanket has begun to wake. Slowly, we will hear more chirping birds, see more fresh paw-prints in the mud, and smell fragrances amongst budding flowers.

Now, look inside yourself, what have we learned from our winter of kindness? I promised you this winter would not teach us how to be kind. Nor did I promise it would allow us to measure a person’s actions. What I did promise was a journey. Some times when we journey we do not go from one place and end up somewhere else. Sometimes we end where we began. Our journey orbited kindness and cruelty, and they pulled us when we were observant or blind to our ethics, mindfulness and will to improve.

On our journey we learned kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others. And on our journey we learned cruelty is the result of blind behavior or malicious manners that erodes good will and fosters suffering.

We learned about kindness on our first week and that it is a gift we give to others and ourselves. We learned about community on our second week and that mindfulness is a core aspect of improvement on a large scale and small. We learned about how we travel on our third week and that it is an extension of kindness. We learned about storytelling on our fourth week when we dared the courageous decision to be the heroes of our story. We learned about morality on our fifth week that empowered us with the free choice to understand the consequences of our actions. We learned about leadership on our sixth week and that we should all live for ourselves and uphold the values important to us. We learned about history on our seventh week and that we have more control of our lives, and our capacity to find fulfillment, than we realize. We learned about love on our eighth week and that we must love ourselves before we can love others. We learned about deeds on our ninth week and that our reasons for kindness do not matter, as long as we have the right impact. We learned about archetypes on our tenth week and that as long as we have the right perspective, with eyes to see and ears to hear, we will never stop learning. We learned about perspectives on our eleventh week and what kindness means to us. We learned about cruelty on our twelfth week and that it exists because we fear death. And we asked what if questions on our thirteenth week to explore how we are all flowing energy, which has come from nothing.

We shared this journey for ninety days. These written words and you reading them will not change the world. This shared philosophy will not start a movement to end the cruelty we know. An unstoppable force will not erupt from this exploration to create an indelible impact for human kindness. And what we did here will not echo in time and history.

Or can it?

What we do will be forgotten. A thousand years ago we only have an idea of how we lived, how we fought and how we loved. A thousand years from now our ancestors will only have an idea of us now. What matters isn’t the revolution we start. Instead of dreaming of change, we simply ought to be. Our children’s, children’s children may never know the impact of our kind deeds, but our fellow brothers and sisters, living today, will. And yes, we are all brothers and sisters, from every family member, to friend, to acquaintance, to stranger, to enemy. We may differ in values and views, we may agree, debate or combat, but there is no denying our fate is shared…and we are all made of the same things…of beating hearts, of heaving chests, of arms and passion to lift us up, of legs and will to carry us, and of stardust. And that stardust all came from the same thing…nothing.

That is the true magic of it all. We do not know how we got here. We do not know how this story will unfold, nor do we know what happens after the final page has been written. All we can control is our behavior now, in this moment. Let’s make the best of it and become kindness. It is a simple proposition, dare to be happy, dare to create happiness, and dare for kindness. We have nothing to lose but time, and we have a lifetime to learn what that means.

May your spring of kindness last you the rest of your story. Thank you for spending your winter with me, for allowing your light to shine and be part of this way of being. Hopefully it was enough to melt snow.

Our Last Ritual of Kindness

Week 13 - Post 89So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we explored “what if” questions of how we ought to live.

We asked, what if something came from nothing? It is a big question that has no answer. When we try to unravel this profound puzzle, we are forced to look back and see how far we come. We should feel large because of our accomplishments, but we should never forget how small we are when we gaze upon the stars. It puts in perspective the stresses we let ourselves feel from things out of our control…we squander so much time on what does not affect us. We should all stop wasting this tremendous gift and realize something can come from nothing…kindness from us, to share with this tiny pale blue dot we call home.

We asked, what if we were good? We talked about how we fool ourselves into believing the world is a cruel place. Even worse, it is foolish to be kind because cruel people take advantage of kind people. We learned kindness is not a liability, as it gives us strong qualities, and it gives us a power so great no one can take anything away from us…”your respect, your dignity, your honor, your fulfillment, your self-worth, your purpose, is owned entirely by you, indivisible and inseparable from your identity, and cannot be altered with or distorted by anyone unless you let them…You alone decide how others affect you.”

We asked, what if we were wise? We examined our judgments, and the power of mindfulness in our opinions. How we reflect on our experiences weighted by our values has the power to create negative, and even destructive forces within us. If we birth these forces we create prejudice…and barriers…and an “us verse them” world. We discussed how we become what we think and the energy we harbor that drives our behavior. We also explored if it is possible to observe without judgment. This is not the prevention of negative energy or the encouragement of positive energy. It is simply the flow of energy.

We asked, what if we lived forever? Time is our most precious commodity, yet we show so little patience, with others and ourselves. We become ignorant and indifferent, leading us to unkind and cruel acts…all because we do not have the time. But if we did have the time would we all slow down and enjoy the moment? Or would we still race and compete and hurt each other to get what we want? We also explored meditation techniques to enhance our awareness of the moment. And we reasoned how our self-imposed stress drives us to lose sight of that.

Lastly, we asked, what if we were fearless? We remembered when we were young and how we did not hesitate to risk being vulnerable when faced with a new experience. This was because pain had yet to teach us the meaning of fear. But we often learn pain’s lesson incorrectly because we believe we must avoid it. That is not true, because risking pain allows us to grow. It should not be a deterrent, but empowerment. But what if we could go back to a time when we were fearless? When we were not afraid to be foolish, and our imagination let us become anything we wanted. If we were fearless, and knew of harm, but chose to believe the world is a beautiful place…would there still be cruelty?

And I will conclude our last ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…many may or may not believe in the existence of karma…the sum of a person’s positive and negative deeds in their past and current lives. The outstanding balance will predicate the positive or negative events that will happen to that person. It is a spiritual life force that balances positive and negative energy, guaranteeing every action has an equal opposite reaction. But ultimately it is a flow of energy. I am not asking you to believe in karma, but do acknowledge that, rationally and scientifically, energy exists, along with positive and negative forces.

And in the end this is what we all are…flowing energy…that has come from nothing. We should all have the goodness, wisdom, and fearlessness to acknowledge this energy lives forever. Treat yourself and others kindly.

What If We Were Fearless

Week 13 - Post 88We all have fears. We fear creatures that can harm us. We fear forces that can crush us. We fear people who can abuse us. And we fear the nameless that lurks in the dark. All our fears…that we share…have one thing in common: the unknown.

But we didn’t start that way. Do you remember a time when you were unaware of the world outside your home? A time when you only knew the kindness fostered by your family? That “unknown” world held unlimited potential. You can do anything. You can be anything. Nothing stood in your way. Answers were easy. And if you didn’t have them you made them up. And if you didn’t make them up you were not afraid to be wrong. You didn’t fear risk…you braved it, because pain has yet to teach you the meaning of hurt.

We often learn pain’s lesson incorrectly. When we experience hurt we think we must avoid it. In our attempt to avoid it, we learn the meaning of fear. But if we do not risk pain we will never grow. That is why we must defy it. Fear should not be a deterrent. It should be empowerment. It should encourage us to race into the darkest realms for that is where the greatest adventures will be.

What if we could go back…to the time when we were kids again? A time when we danced and didn’t care if we looked foolish. We sang and didn’t care if we were out of tune. We drew and didn’t care if it looked ugly. A time when our flaws were filled by our imaginations, giving us the greatest gifts of all…a life without fear. But since pain taught us fear…there were fewer floors we danced on, fewer notes we sung, and fewer papers for our masterpieces. And slowly, our fear ate our creativity. It killed our imagination and our optimism that we can be anything we wanted.

Let’s consider a different perspective. We know pain can enable growth. Did you know it could prevent suffering? If you are challenged, you may face pain, since challenges bring the risk of rejection and failure. But if you are comfortable and complacent…free from pain…you will not have challenges to test you…to invigorate you…to fulfill you. Without challenges you will inevitably suffer. Do not let fear prevent your happiness.

Now let consider another perspective. Frane Selak is a Croatian music teacher who was born in 1929. He is famous for his many brushes with death. He survived train, plane, bus and car crashes that killed nearly 20 people each. His car caught on fire, twice, and he escaped each time before it exploded. And, he was struck by a vehicle…and shot himself… surviving it all. This story should remind us of how fleeting our lives may be…and how we should not squander it dwelling on what is out of our control. What would Frank’s alterative have been? Never travel because he may have an accident? Do not let fear stop you from living peacefully.

Let’s consider a final perspective…what if we were fearless? What if we knew of harm, but only protected ourselves from experiences that make us worse off and embraced the pain that makes us grow. If we had no fears, had clarity over what we cannot control and had the belief the world is a beautiful place…would there still be cruelty? Would we hurt and be hurt by others?

I will let you decide. I believe it couldn’t hurt to be fearless.

What If We Lived Forever

Week 13 - Post 87Time is the ultimate limited resource. We can always grow more food. We can always build more things. We can always earn more money. As long as there are people with the will to think and wonder, all we touch is limitless…except for time.

We seem to never have enough. We hurry too often…to our destination…to our next promotion…to our next relationship…to our graves. We compare ourselves to others and see the things we do not have. And when we finally get the things we want, we want more. We show little patience, and we become short with others. We become ignorant and unkind. This leads to indifference, since our endless thirst trumps other’s feelings…all because we do not have the time.

But what if we did? What if our rush, our hustle, our non-stop-move-and-go can be slowed, because time was no longer a luxury but a commodity? What would change if we lived forever? Would we slow down, and not hurt others along the way, because we had all the time we need to earn the things we want? Or would we still race on, tramping those who get in our way?

Living peacefully isn’t measured by how long our lives are, but how we spend it. In my novel, Storyteller’s Rose, I wrote: “Men should not fear death, they should fear not living. Nor should they be afraid that life is too short. They should be afraid it would be too long.” I later add… “[Our] finite scope and limited perspective allows us to taste, touch, hear, see, and feel life. It allows us not just to live, but to thrive.”

Perhaps our lives were meant to end, to allow us to value what is precious. Our knowledge of its end should not be a cruel reminder, like a sharp knife cutting a fragile cord, but a kind one…how we should never take a moment for granted.

In this kind remember we must stop and breathe. To get there, simply ask: “where are my feet?” The answer, simply again: beneath you…grounded and present…in this moment. Meditation is wonderful art you can try as well. Meditation is not meant to control your thoughts, emotions or impulses to force yourself to be present, but rather, cultivates inner energy and guards you from negative reactions to negative forces, such as stress, anxiety or doubt. It helps you unwind your judgments that create prejudices. There are many types of meditation you can explore…to learn how your mind and body works, and processes the world around you. Sensing your heart beat…your depth of breath…the energy flowing within you…is empowerment.

Now consider instead of living forever, we could live each day twice. What would be different? The first time we live our day, we may be anxious or rushed. But the second time, there would be an absence of stress. If we knew what was going to happen in our day-to-day lives we can live more mindfully. We would have the confidence to be ourselves, because we know we can handle what is to come…because we handled it before. So…what stops us from behaving this way the first day?

Living forever…what a fantastical thought. If we cannot die, we would no longer have a fear of death. Would this also mean the end of cruelty? We will explore this tomorrow…if we were fearless.

What If We Were Wise

Week 13 - Post 86There is an inherit mindfulness in wisdom…the quality of having good judgment…to reflect on our experiences and anticipate the impact of our actions. If we all possessed this quality, how would our world be different?

Consider when you observe something you venomously disagree with. What first comes to mind? A brash thought? Disgust? Concern? Angst? These are all judgments…reflections of our experiences weighted by our values. If we observe something that strays far from what we value we may have a negative…and possibly destructive…reaction to it. It is only natural to form an opinion, as we all have our own lens, built by our experiences, in which we view the world. But when we birth our destructive opinion to the world around us, we create prejudice.

When we create prejudice, we create barriers. We create an “us verses them” world. We construct arbitrary limits that define people as one of two types. We see people as either good or bad, having or not having, believe as we do or don’t. We must stop seeing…and judging…the world as part of one of these two groups. People are simply people, and capable of immeasurable kindness or cruelty. As I wrote weeks ago… There are no literal barriers that divide us from the next person, only invented ones. In the end we are all made up of the same things…of beating hearts, of heaving chests, of arms and passion to lift us up, of legs and will to carry us, and of stardust… But this is not so simple.

Do you believe we become what we think? If you dwell on negative behavior your actions will reflect them. And your actions are a reflection of who you are, as they form patterns to become your behavior. Even if we lock away our thoughts, our innocent omissions will seep out of our minds and into our manners. With discipline we can control the negative reactions of our biases. But are we able to resist the thoughts that create these biases…these judgments? This is the wrong question to ask, as we should never restrain our thoughts. The true discipline is not having these thoughts at all.

Do you believe it is possible to observe without judgment? To witness without forming an opinion, and simply absorb the moment for what it is worth? This is not the prevention of negative energy, or the encouragement of positive energy. It is simply the flow of energy.

Now consider again when we observe something we venomously disagree with. How easy it is for us to judge a stranger. But imagine if that stranger were our mother in a past life…how differently we would think? Because she is someone we are familiar with, someone we can show empathy towards…someone we understand because of the gifts they gave us when we were young.

Now finally, consider yet again when we observe something we venomously disagree with, but this time consider the perspective of the person committing that act. Regardless of how jaded with cruelty the person may be, see the person as exactly that…a person capable of pain. When you start to understand the pain of others, and the reasoning of their actions…no matter how flawed, no matter how lost…your once pungent thoughts may now be calmed. And perhaps they may be muted entirely.

This is not compliance of possibly cruel acts. But it is acceptance of a person as he or she is…and their pain. May we all show wisdom in the face of the things we disagree with, and acknowledge the pain of others.

What If We Were Good

Week 13 - Post 85Where is a safe place you can go?

Think about a place where you are not alone, but alone with friends or family. These are the people you can trust…rely on through good times and bad. If you had any disagreements, any quarrels, you will resolve them with reasonable contention, because you share values, and care for each other. How many places can you go where you feel this way? With co-workers? With long ago friends you keep in touch? How about with the stranger down the street? There are not many places…right?

In our first entry I wrote: I believe that most people are good, but that most people do not know how to be kind. Of those who know how, few actually are.

But, if most people are good…who would do the right thing when called…then why aren’t there more places where we feel safe? Why do we fear being vulnerable? Why do we believe people will hurt us if given the chance?

We are fooled into believing the world is a cruel place. But it is only if we let it. The greater fool is the one who believes we are fools when we are kind. Because we believe kind people are naive. Because we believe cruel people take advantage of kind people, just like the wolf stalks the sheep. Kind people have a great capacity for empathy, compassion and trust, because they choose to see the best in others. But we fool ourselves into believing such traits blind us to the sheepskin covered wolves.

So…are we foolish for being kind? To be exposed to possible peril, and the dagger waiting to stab at our open heart? Are we one kind act away from becoming a victim, helpless in the wake of cruelty?

No. You are not powerless. You have more power than you realize. Within you is the confidence that can scale mountains and tame lions. Within you is an inferno that is one spark away from lighting the world on fire. Within you is the hurricane, the earthquake, the volcano, and the meteor shower of force that can break through any barrier. It is a power so great, no one can take anything from you. Your respect, your dignity, your honor, your fulfillment, your self-worth, your purpose, is owned entirely by you, indivisible and inseparable from your identity, and cannot be altered with or distorted by anyone unless you let them. You are the captain of your consciousness, master of your awareness and pilot of your perception. You alone decide how others affect you.

The only foolish act is to let go of the helm of our lives, and let others drive. When we do, we create limits in our mind, see the world as a cruel place, and give ourselves excuses not to be kind…because if we are kind, we will get hurt, and be played for a fool.

Kindness is strength not a liability. This is because people are inherently good. And your kindness will encourage and empower that in others. Spread some kindness, in this kind world, today.

What If Something Came From Nothing

Week 13 - Post 84Why are we here? Where did all things…that make up us…that make up the universe…come from? Can something come from nothing?

These are big questions that have no answers. We may believe we know, from spiritual beliefs or scientific theories…but we only have a feeling of what the answers may be.

If we look at the ground, and walk through the streets of our vast human civilization that spans all corners of the globe, with our towering skyscrapers, powerful machines, and groundbreaking technologies…we marvel at what we have accomplished. We have a command over the forces of nature, and have become masters of all creatures within our domain. How mighty we think we are. And how much strife we endure to maintain our place as the dominant species on this planet.

But if we look at the sky…at night…when there are no lights…what we see silences us. No matter how big we think we are, there is no greater reminder than the night sky of how small we really are. We estimate that there are over 100 billion galaxies, each with over 100 billion stars. Our closest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. Light travels over 186,000 miles per second. It is almost impossible to comprehend such vastness. Consider Mars, our closest planet, which is 35 million miles from us. It would take us over 250 days to travel that distance. It would take light about 3 minutes.

This puts in perspective the problems we face. Consider how easily frustrated we are over things we have no control, or things that do not matter to our lives. How often do we become upset over things that do not harm our family, friends or our health? Sometimes when we feel overwhelmed we should remind ourselves to look up at the majesty of the night sky, and realize how small our problems really are. Such a realization should empower us with a calming, mindful peace.

Feeling small from thinking about big questions should not stop us from asking them. It is how we are humbled by scary thoughts that reminds us of how far we have come, and how much further we have to go. Our collective experiences have occurred in a cosmic blink of an eye…and this should remind us of the precious time we waste. We waste it on little stresses and disagreements with loved ones. We waste it on suffering from tragedies that happened long ago. We waste it on unhealthy rivalries and fighting that lead to vicious conflict. We waste it on creating barriers between cultures and communities, expelling views because they are different. And we waste it on the cruelty we create, because we are all afraid of that unknown when we close our eyes for that last time.

We should all stop wasting this tremendous gift and realize something can come from nothing…kindness from us, to share with this tiny pale blue dot we call home.

Our Twelfth Ritual of Kindness

Week 12 - Post 83Each week we started our kindness rituals with the question: how has kindness inspired us this week? But this week we didn’t explore kindness…we explored the darkness that enters our lives once the light of kindness has gone out. This exploration allowed us to reflect on how we can stray from our path. I wrote:

Without light there is darkness. A bright light casts away the veil, the hazy, the cloak and the gloom. Even faint light gives us clear enough sight, allowing only shadows to eclipse the uncertain. But what happens when the light goes out?

So, what have we learned from cruelty this week? We learned cruelty is corruptible, as it not only creates, but spreads suffering like a virus. I wrote:

Cruelty is the result of blind behavior or malicious manners that erodes good will and fosters suffering.

We discussed over 40 philosophies of being unkind and cruel, stemming from ignorance, indifference and intent. We explored unkind behavior caused by how we protect, grow or ignore ourselves. We then explored indifference and the difference between being rude, mean and a bully. We discussed the follies of the risk avoidance and faux immortal philosophies. Finally, we gazed into evil intent, and how we become cruelty when we are blind to, lost to or break our values.

And I will conclude our twelfth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…if cruelty is the opposite of kindness, and we aspire to be kind…why is there cruelty? Where does it come from and what is its reason? Does it live inside all of us…and are we capable of cleansing our souls of its stain? Does it come from something larger than ourselves…like original sin…and eats at what makes us human? Or does it make us who we are and is part of our “human condition?” If you look at all our lessons, we have an answer…

Cruelty exists because we fear death.

Do you agree? We are the only species profoundly aware of death, and this has a ripple effect throughout our lives. Next time you act not like your best self, ask why. Perhaps someone hurt your feelings and you reacted poorly. Ok, why? If you keep asking you may realize your time is limited, so if you do not invest it wisely, or let others abuse it, you will not be fulfilled. If you allow that, you are wasting it and are only racing toward your inevitable end.

Would this change if we lived forever? What if we acted like we did, or if we didn’t fear death? For the final week of our Winter of Kindness, we will explore these “what if” questions in how we ought to live.

Evil Intent

Week 12 - Post 82Cruelty is the result of blind behavior or malicious manners that erodes good will and fosters suffering.

This week we explored how we are sometimes unkind when we are ignorant and cruel when we are indifferent. But when we intentionally do harm, regardless of the reasons, we become the worst versions of ourselves…we become cruelty.

We all are human and all are equal. We all have profound capacity for wonder and reason. We all deserve happiness. We all can create something from nothing. And within all of us is a gift…the power to sense another’s presence, and perceive their feelings. This gift is granted to us by the knowledge that pain and pleasure exist, and we know one makes us feel bad, and the other makes us feel good. With this gift why would we intentionally cause pain for others? I had written…

A value is not just a guide. It is also a tool. A compass directs you to possibly avoid peril, just as your values show you what bad decisions not to make.

We ignore our gift of understanding other’s pain when our values are out of order. Which values? Any…but when we purposely hurt others we lack compassion. And our values can become out of order any number of ways.

Our values are out of order when we are blind. We can’t use our values to guide our judgment because we cannot see them. We are in an evil bliss because our ego is more important than other’s feelings. We become cruel when we strive for a false sense of power driven by our egos (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #41). When our high confidence demands we are self-serving with ego-driven acts (#9). When selfishness overrides empowerment and we love ourselves into thinking we only matter (#54). Or when our egos out-weigh our empathy to understand how we are all capable of hurt (#44).

Our values are also out of order when we are lost. We can’t understand values when we don’t understand who we are. We have no identity, only a false one…a shadow-self that embraces evil with no empathy. We become cruel when we define ourselves by things and by what people can give us, reacting mercilessly to obtain fulfillment through false validation (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #50). When we lack conviction and believe we have no purpose (#12). When we self-deprecate and allow our victimhood to infect those around us (#53). When we attack those we love because we lose ourselves in self-loathing feelings (#68). Or when we let our inner demons run wild (#64).

But worst of all our values are out of order when they are broken. We are agents of evil because our North Star is not a bright light, but a black hole. We falsely perceive our world to be a bitter place that demands our misgivings. We justify our malicious behavior with our assumed superior motives, founded on a faulty philosophy, supporting ideologies of vengeance, self-interested justice or mutual destruction. And deception…we thrive on deceiving all around us into believing cruelty is the righteous road to take, using whatever charisma we have to manipulate rational minds into seeing such behavior as not only acceptable, but essential. But most of all, in this jumbled narrative we tell, we deceive ourselves into believing since no light can escape this black hole we call our North Star, if we are consumed by it, we will become brighter than the sun.

We are cruelty when we thrive on excessive greed (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #30), blur ethical lines (#32), play zero-sum games (#33), or harness the power of community for destruction (#7). We are cruelty when we justify our behavior with moral licensing (#29), become the villains we glorify by swallowing their rhetoric to defend their psychosis (#23), or purposefully become an obstacle on someone’s journey (#22). And, we are cruelty when we are cutthroat leaders (#37) or scoundrels (#67).

Such is the way of being cruel. May we always nurture our values…and never become blind to them, be lost to them or break them.

Faux Immortal

Week 12 - Post 81When we avoid risk we believe pain is not necessary. We try to prevent what is inevitable by grasping at as many happy moments as possible, all in a fleeting purist of a “best life now.” When we do this we can hurt ourselves by throwing away opportunities to grow. And we can hurt others by discounting their feelings to spare ourselves potential discomfort.

But there are those who are brazen when faced with pain…with harm…with adversary…and do not fear affliction. They are blind to the hurt they face or can inflict on others. They take no heed of what will come tomorrow. They have no thought of their own mortality, and perhaps have contempt for it, never considering one day they will be no more…so there is no need to leave the world better than how they found it. This is the faux immortal’s creed, and he is cruel by indifference.

Faux immortals prefer “the finer things in life” for the sake of perception. They worship possessions like a false god. Such beliefs are one part vanity, one part delusion and two parts poor investment. They are vain because they think themselves entitled to what they own. They are diluted because they think such things matter. And they invest poorly because material wealth brings no joy. The result is a “must have more” mentality to fill the abyss of their desires. But it will never be filled as long as they live…which will not be forever. To be clear, I am not questioning luxurious possessions, but we must ask the motivation for them.

The faux immortal is cruel when he thinks he is growing himself. When he crashes through people’s feelings and crushes their desires to attain what is selfishly important…such as a promotion, a romantic interest, or a coveted item on Black Friday (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #35). Or when he cares more about a title than merit, using his job as a vehicle to twist, turn or trample colleagues to get to where he wants to go (#66).

The faux immortal is also cruel when he ignores himself.
When he tries to escape the everyday because he is unfulfilled, abhors the ordinary, takes no accountability for his happiness, and views other’s opinions more valuable than his own because of their title (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #35). When he lacks the capacity to forgive, succumbs to regret by blaming himself for choices that caused him pain and falls victim to the no-win situation (#10, #29 and #53). When he ignores emotional injuries…and possibly physical injuries…and dwells on destructive thoughts because he has no respect for his mind or body (#61). Or when he hates himself because he believes he is not worth the trouble (#54).

The faux immortal can either be an elitist or a loather, seeking a superficial definition of power from misguided beliefs, or violating survival instincts to self-deprecate the intrinsic value of human life. In either case, they believe there are no consequences for their actions. In either case, they believe the only moment is the one they have is now. In either case, whatever gratification they seek is self-serving. In either case, they lack the reason to except that death is part of life. In either case, they cannot imagine a world without them. And, in either case, they would see the world burn before they are not a part of it.

The faux immortal, fueled by indifference, is a cruel beast indeed. And tomorrow, we will explore the darkest parts of cruelty…cruel by intent.

Risk Avoidance

Week 12 - Post 80It is courageous to live our best life now. Our minds must be disciplined because we become what we think. Our aspirations must be focused because they become the best of us. Our lives must be protected against whom we let in, and how we spend our time because that is what fulfills us. This defines our quality of life.

Every fleeting moment we have is precious. Because we are all born, and we all one day will die, and everything in between is all we have. So we must be cautious, very cautious, of the enemies that can keep us from our “best life now” …right?

Our “best life now” has many enemies. We have obstacles. We have challenges. We have adversaries to keep us from the best we can be. That is why to make the most of this life we must do what is best, have what is best and be the best. If not, we are falling short of our potential. We must revel in emotional highs, and avoid the lows…avoid it at all cost. We must avoid frustration, stress and discomfort. And above all, prevent pain. Pain steals our happiness. If we let it into our lives we lash out, hurt others and ourselves.

Pain commands the worst in us…right? Wrong…

There is a flaw in this risk avoidance philosophy (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #29) that pain is not necessary…that pain is bad. Yes, it causes us harm…but it is needed to grow. In our “best life now” we need to experience all the wonders this Earth has to offer, including some pain. When we try to avoid it we become indifferent. When we try to not get hurt we lose sight of other’s pain…we rather have others get hurt instead of us. And in this pursuit we may hurt others, so we turn a blind eye…or worse…purposely harm others.

The risk avoidance philosophy protects us from pain with indifference. We do this when we dare not to be vulnerable, fending off harm, adversity and challenges at the cost of an open mind, being ignorant and our growth (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #50). We do this when we hold onto someone who is not meant for us, because the warmth of a relationship is better than the coldness of being alone (#50). We do this when we are blind to the everyday pain around us…that of illness, homelessness, hunger…and do nothing because it is easier than doing something (#23). We do this when we bottle our emotions to cope with grief (#51). And we do this when we are victims of a cruel act and our confidence is too low to try new things, so we build walls around our battered egos to keep the pain away (#9).

And we will explore the remaining pillars of indifference…that of growth and ignoring ourselves, tomorrow…

When we are Indifferent

Week 12 - Post 79We have been taught opposites create a balance, and therefore cancel each other when they collide. We have been taught if we bring hate into a loving relationship it will be destroyed, if we smear what is ugly upon art it is no longer beautiful, or if doubt our spiritual beliefs they will be dispelled. But this isn’t true. What smothers these wondrous things are not their opposites, but indifference. Indifference is numbness. What was once vibrant, warm and bright becomes a stagnant void. It rots away sympathy, compassion, desire, and leaves emptiness in its wake.

Indifference impairs us in major ways. If we are good, but are indifferent to evil intent, we allow that evil to run wild. If we do not actively cause harm, but do not actively prevent it, we can become victim or even ruled by evil intent. This also applies to us. If we are good, with good intent, but are indifferent to how our actions impact others, we can cause harm.

How can that be? If we intend to do good…isn’t that enough?

It isn’t. What matters is how we impact the world, and if we create harm we must take accountability. Once we do, our indifference will be absolved and we can let love, beauty and belief thrive once more.

There is an epidemic running rampant…let’s discuss the difference between being rude, mean and a bully. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is appropriate, or hard to sense how we make others feel. Ultimately if we make someone feel uncomfortable we have crossed a line. But, depending on how attentive we are, or how sensitive the accidental victim, it may not be easy to tell if a line has been crossed. This is when judgment and honestly enables us to be respectful.

Let’s apply this judgment and have an honest conversation…

When we are rude we are ignorant of how we may harm someone. This can be playful teasing amongst friends. This can be calling out awkward behavior, perhaps brashly or to embarrass, to prevent it from repeating. This can be a strong reaction that does not create an offensive pattern. When we are rude there is naivety and forgiveness. It is important to correct our behavior once we discover we have offended someone.

When we are mean we start to become indifferent. It lacks the levity and good nature of rudeness. It is the basis for a pattern that causes pain. Consider when we gossip. All in good fun, right? But gossiping is a gateway to cruelty. We enjoy people’s stories because they are interesting. Enjoying a shared story is respectful. Invading someone’s privacy and relishing in someone’s conflict breaks trust. Instead of investing in constructing ourselves, we invest in destructing others. But this mean spirit has redemption…all we have to do is acknowledge the suffering we caused and atone to it.

A bully is cruel by intent. He attacks to destroy, and to satisfy something left unwanted within him. This festering doubt commands his insecurities to strike at others when the scale is tipped in his favor. A bully assaults the weak, and takes advantage of the powerless. Perhaps the would-be victim isn’t as physically or mentally capable. Perhaps it is someone younger, or a child. Or perhaps it is an animal…a non-human will…and does not have the same protections as people, but is capable of suffering just the same.

Being rude or mean may cross the line that can be forgiven. But a bully’s actions shouldn’t be tolerated. Everyone is accountable to dull the slash of a bully’s whip by standing up to intolerant, bigoted or malicious behavior. No bully has a right to make someone feel small, or to make someone feel disqualified as a person just by being who they are. Good people cannot remain good if they are indifferent to a bully by let them act as they do.

May all good people acknowledge their power to prevent suffering. I guarantee you, no matter how small it may seem it will make a tremendous difference to someone.

When We Are Unkind

Week 12 - Post 78All of us, even the most conscious, are sometimes unkind. At our best we count our needs and desires as important as others. But ultimately when we consider ourselves ahead of others, as is necessary sometimes, there is an opportunity to cause pain, however unintended.

There is a difference between intent, indifference and ignorance in our actions. We are cruel if we are so by intent or by indifference. Our motives in these instances are measured by our values. When we are cruel, we lack compassion, respect, honesty, integrity and humility. And, when we are cruel, we glorify false idols. When we act ignorantly, we are unkind…not cruel…and have a chance at redemption.

There is a legend of a samurai who protected a village. Bandits attempted to pillage it but feared the hero’s wrath. Instead they set fire to a nearby bamboo field, hoping to burn out the villagers and the samurai. Instead of chasing and striking down the villains, the samurai raced into the field and cut a long divide of bamboo, stopping the fire from reaching the village. His lethal weapon gave life by preventing death.

When I started Winter of Kindness it never occurred to me a person might resolve to be unkind. A person might be good, wanting good for others, but hold their values in so high regard they are comfortable with causing others hurt if they don’t hold similar standards. Their values…ones that empower kindness and goodness…become a sword that can bring both life and death…help and hurt.

But we do this in so many ways…

We can be unkind when we think we are protecting ourselves…when we focus on the feelings of hurt we have in a moment, and mute all others around us, regardless of their needs or how we may hurt them. We do this out of ignorance, self-preservation, or to cope (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #33). Or when we are not present in the moment because we feel overwhelmed or controlled (#21). Or when we only do good things because we feel we are forced, and are hardwired by consequences (#28). Or when we seek escape from the things we fear, such as our fear of death, hypothesized in the terror management theory (#8).

We can be unkind when we think we are growing ourselves…when we bulldoze through the day to meet our needs, unaware of how we impact others (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #35). Or when our span of influence in our social or professional life is broader than what we can see, and decisions we make hurt others, despite trying to serve a greater good (#24). Or when we forget there is a difference between sense of purpose and sense of self (#35).

And we can be unkind when we ignore ourselves…when we let ourselves live in someone else’s shadow (introduced in Winter of Kindness entry #39). Or when we do not know the difference between pain and suffering, and lack the maturity to acknowledge pain happens, spending needless energy to avoid it (#49). Or when we lose our way in the dark forests of our doubts, and lack the tools…the values…to find our way out (#26). Or when we do not know ourselves, and put ourselves in situations that can cause negative exchanges by our limited experiences (#52).

It is ok to be unkind sometimes. When we discover we are, we must take accountability, accept the consequences and forgive ourselves. Hopefully we can learn from it.

But we must be mindful when we resolve to be unkind. Should we make this decision, we must be prepared for the consequences, which may risk aliening others. Be aware of the habits this creates, and the behavior this fosters. We may become disagreeable, or perhaps cold, or perhaps indifferent. And should we become that, we must be prepared for what could happen to us next…

And that is a topic we will explore tomorrow.

Cruelty

Week 12 - Post 77Without light there is darkness. A bright light casts away the veil, the hazy, the cloak and the gloom. Even faint light gives us clear enough sight, allowing only shadows to eclipse the uncertain. But what happens when the light goes out?

This Winter of Kindness we have focused on that light…kindness. And we introduced philosophies that supported and contradicted its pillars…ethical behavior, mindfulness and betterment. We sometimes forget we are all sources of light. The demons within us dim the kindness we are capable…but this week we will not talk about such things. This week we will explore darkness…and if kindness is light, what is darkness?

Cruelty.

Cruelty is the result of blind behavior or malicious manners that erodes good will and fosters suffering. All cruel acts are driven by intent or indifference. Understanding intent is clear…a person purposefully acts to bring about harm or anguish to another, regardless of justification…such as vengeance, or spiteful spirit. Understanding indifference is not as clear…a person purposefully turning a blind-eye to the harm and anguish he or she may cause, because it is easier than having the integrity to correct their behavior. This is not the same as ignorance. Ignorance is not cruelty, but is unkind. We may not be cruel people, but can cause pain…and possibly suffering…by being unaware of how we impact others. Ignorant people who learn of the hurt they cause are willing to correct their mistake. And if they do not, they become indifferent.

Earlier this Winter of Kindness I wrote, “ego with blindness will lead you down a road of cruelty.” This blind road starts with “ignorance,” and may quickly lead to “indifference,” which is not far from “intent.” We have explored multiple cruel philosophies already…the zero-sum game, the scoundrel, the inner demon and others. And this week we will explore the philosophies of unkind ignorance, cruel indifference and cruel intent.

We do this to understand how we can stray from kindness. Weeks earlier we discussed “there are ideologies and behaviors that cause destruction and death…the anti-life to our fulfillment, to tear down our earthly efforts only to watch the world burn. That, in its essence, is the absence of kindness…true cruelty.” In my novel, Storyteller’s Rose, I addressed the belief that light and dark…good and evil…kindness and cruelty are balanced opposites, but they are not. I wrote: “I know good and evil exist, but one is not a cause for the other. Evil should not be allowed to fester, or exist because of a balance. To accept that is to embrace chaos. One drop of evil dilutes good, which creates a confusing gray. In this mesh of doubt, good and evil are indistinguishable, not balanced. Your balance is actually a void.”

May our lights always shine, even in the dark.

Our Eleventh Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we shared a few perspectives from my friends, family and colleagues. They are people who have helped me become a better version of myself, by sharing similar values and interests. Weeks earlier, I wrote…

There are no literal barriers that divide us from the next person, only invented ones. The divisions of race, creed, sexuality, religion, ethnicity are all constructs that were made up by a legacy we inherited to help us understand why we are different. The irony is that our only true differences are our experiences.

And so we shared a few experiences from new perspectives. We first explored how a kind act can stay with us, even years later. We then talked about how we put up walls that prevent us from trying something different, like meeting people, and helping others…and how we are always “one introduction away from being friends” with someone new. We also shared a fable of kindness that turned upside-down how we, as humans, see kindness. We then explored how we can hurt others by counting their feelings ahead of our own. We shared the power of inner-peace, and the power we have to prevent negative energy from invading our thoughts. And finally, we connected work, play and kindness by exploring how the lessons of coaching baseball can influence other aspects of our life. You do not need to be the best performer to be a champion. By shedding ego-driving behavior and having the resolve to face adversity you can rally your team to answer any challenge.

And I will conclude our eleventh ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…in the past eleven weeks we have shared a philosophy of kindness. It may have resonated with you, or you may have disagreed with it. What matters is what kindness means to you, and how you choose to take action to influence things for better or for worse. Just as you saw from our guest writers, their experiences on kindness vary. But despite these differences, there was one consistency: how we impact others by our actions. How do we know if we had a positive or negative impact on others? It depends on how you and others view the world.

And that is a perfect theme for next week…exploring kindness’ opposite: cruelty.

Leadership from the Dirt

PrintTrenton Cycholl, my mentor and friend, is an innovative technology leader for a multi-billion dollar business. His personal style is values driven, fostering respect, humility, integrity and conviction. He wrote this article last year during the height of baseball season, connecting work, play and kindness. And he has allowed me to share it with all of you. Enjoy…

It’s a great time of year for baseball fans with Major League Baseball in the opening week of the season and I am personally nearing the end of a middle school baseball season. I am blessed to have the opportunity by spending some late afternoons at the baseball fields teaching and mentoring players as they live their dreams. Learning at the fields is always two-way though. While teaching players skills relating to baseball, they are able to share many lessons that can be valuable in business and work. One area I noticed over the last few seasons is with leadership and applying lessons from the baseball team to teams in business. I have read many articles on leadership with suggestions on becoming great leaders and ways to grow leadership skills. They are helpful and definitely insightful, but I tend to enjoy experience first-hand to learn and create a “lens” to share with others. From the fields (or dirt) I have watched leadership form and grow throughout the seasons as players enjoy baseball through their middle school years. Below are a few areas I thought I could share and possibly be of use in other roles and teams we manage in business.

Leaders are not assigned by a manager or coach, they are chosen by the team.

As teams come together every year, there is a “sorting out” among the group that occurs. All players start to assume roles (not necessarily positions) on the team. There always seems to be someone who stands out and becomes a focus for other team members. Coaches have some influence, but ultimately, no matter what influence coaches try to have forcing someone to be a leader, it happens naturally and without assignment. While at the office, watch for individuals that seem to draw interest from other team members when challenges exist or a time that teams might be at significant stress levels. The team has great insight into leaders they want to follow and will look to that leader naturally.

Leaders are not always the most statistically significant players.

Though it can be helpful, sometimes, the leader on a team is not the one with the highest average, or the person who executes projects most effectively. In fact, it seems that leadership among more average players creates a better connection for others to relate and follow more easily. A few times on baseball teams I have coached, the leader is not even someone who plays regularly. It might be someone who uses time in the dugout to influence and drive the team forward. Leaders can be found in many places in business, but don’t always focus on the person knocking projects out of the park or the player that always seems to have solutions and answers.

Leaders are confident and have presence under pressure, but not always through individual success.

A leader has significant presence when there is a close game or a play is needed to win a game. In baseball, it might not be the player who hits a home run when you need it or makes a diving catch to save a run in the last inning. It is not necessarily that leader executing to be the star, but more importantly, you always know they are there and bring calmness to the situation. The play may be made by superstars on the team, but without exception, a leader is involved and influencing in some way. At work, there may be projects that have challenges, but there are individuals that might be buried in details bringing success to projects through motivations not directly tied to the execution of a project. Watch for leaders “hiding” among the success plays of projects.

Every situation we are involved in can bring surprises and learning. There is always something to learn no matter where we are at and who might be teaching us.

The First Lesson

PrintToday, my brother, Thomas Barnes, an honorably discharged marine, a telecommunications consultant and a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore shares the power of inner-kindness. He has seen more of the world than most, been exposed to the best and worse of it, and lent us his experiences in his story. Enjoy…

The forge is a curious place: there is no chaos, only precise order disguised as such. Everything was planned from the moment my feet hit the yellow foot-prints to the moment I saw my family on graduation day; the blacksmiths even timed the rising sun on the day the forge’s seal was pressed upon my heart. The young bar of steel is taught to yell constantly, day in and day out. We yell so loud and so long that we can feel the moment our voices crack and break, the moment our vocal chords give out. This is crucial in developing control over aggression, a critical skill during the soldiering process. We spit blood and we drive on, accepting the smiths’ relentless hammering. I was different though: by the end of the first week I was constantly gasping for air; a medical examination revealed pneumonia to be the cause. I spent three days recovering in isolation.

Pneumonia kills the elderly and infantile equally quickly, but I had it for three, sixteen-hour, many-thousand-calorie-burning days. The trick to surviving, initially at least, is much like riding a bicycle: stay moving or fall. But, if anyone sustains for too long, they simply die. A full recovery can take weeks, even months; I had days. My senior blacksmith knew how crippling pneumonia could be so he “went easy” on me. But on Friday morning I was thrown back into the fray. When there is a mission to accomplish, no matter what the state I am in, I must accomplish it. This is the mentality that separates “us” from “them.” The enemy looks for the weak and kills them first, so, never be weak. But I was injured; I was weak. So when I couldn’t even close my hand around a rope tightly enough to climb it, I was pulled aside and ridiculed by not a smith, but by one of the forgemasters, the minds behind the machine.

His eyes were cold and unfeeling; he looked upon me in the same fashion I would have looked upon a cockroach. His words were uncomfortably soothing, “I won’t blame you. It’s not your fault you can’t climb that rope. You’re weak. But it’s not your fault. It’s your father’s fault. He gave you weak genes. He let you get lazy. He let you fail. He’s probably as weak as you are. But it’s not your fault, it’s his because of his genes, and his father’s genes, and his father before him. You come from a line of weakness. You shouldn’t have come here.”

Slowly now… Are you paying attention?

Good. This is the first lesson, the most important one, because it is the foundation for all others. Close your ears and open your mind. Between now and the close of this lesson, nothing but you and I exist, not the noises behind you, the light around you, the smell in the air or its temperature upon your skin. Nothing else but you and me. Are you following?

You are walking across the street and a homeless man approaches you. He is unwashed and unshaven, wearing ripped and shredded clothing, and smelling like the rancid runoff from the streets of a drunken parade. He asks you for a dollar. You say “no.” He returns your rejection with cruel, malicious eyes and sneers, “You piece of garbage. You selfish worm. Everything you’ve ever done in life doesn’t mean a damn thing. You’re just a failure who’ll die alone, unloved and unwanted. Kill yourself. You are worthless.”

How do you feel?

Shocked, maybe, but it doesn’t hurt, right? It’s just some bum.

Now, focus: Who is the most important human being in your life? Your mother? Your father? Your husband? Your wife? Don’t just think of them, but say their name aloud, right now. Remember them and refresh their memory. When did you last see them? Can you remember what they were wearing? What they smelled like? The sound, the tone of their voice? Do this, and when you’re ready, I’ll continue.

You are walking across the street and the most important person in your life approaches you. This person is unwashed and unshaven, wearing ripped and shredded clothing, and smelling like the rancid runoff from the streets of a drunken parade. This person, now having fallen on hard times, asks you for a dollar. You reach for your wallet only to realize you left it elsewhere. You have no money to give them, so you say “no.” This person returns your rejection with cruel, malicious eyes and sneers, “You piece of garbage. You selfish worm. Everything you’ve ever done in life doesn’t mean a damn thing. You’re just a failure who’ll die alone, unloved and unwanted. Kill yourself. You are worthless.”

How do you feel?

It hurt, didn’t it? Those words struck you to your core, knowing someone you care so much for could say something so horrible. But why?

No, it has nothing to do with the words, so don’t say that. It is more complicated than that. What was it about the two people then?

It doesn’t matter that the first person was a bum and the second person was your idol, either. Both called you garbage. Both called you worthless. So, what was the difference? Are you saying it’s the person saying it?

No. It has nothing to do with that. One thousand people could call you worthless, but only the person you care about could hurt you. Why? Why do some words hurt, but others please? Why do some words cut your gut out, but others fill you with elation? How does this happen? Think. You already know the answer.

That’s right. The force behind words isn’t given by the person casting them, but by you and you alone.

My father is the most important man in my life. For those who know me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they know this to be true. As the forgemaster slung his hot embers upon me though, he had no clue that these were the most potent, most perfectly selected words to strike me with. I think, to this very day, that he knew it too, because he said so with a smug smile. He expected me to break.

I would like to say that the words crashed into me, like water upon rock. But they did not. To say they did would mean that I acknowledged them, that they hit me to begin with. Even a drop of water, over eons, can carve mountains. For it to crash into me would also imply that I resisted it. But there was nothing to resist to begin with. He did not know me.

Our eyes met and he grew angry. I had not given him the reaction he wanted. I stood there, unaffected. I had given his words absolutely no power; I let his words passed through me. I did not think the forgemaster was better or worse than me. I did not pity or idolize him. I did not ignore or acknowledge his existence, either. In simplest terms, his words meant nothing because I chose to let them mean nothing.

To this day, when I am training the new blades fresh from the forge, this is the first lesson I teach. It prepares the student for all the rest. Some accept the lesson and some do not, much like in Plato’s Cave. Those that do begin to understand that they have the power to change the lens they use to look at the world.

Killing Yourself with Kindness

PrintToday, my sister, Ariel Barnes, shares insights on kindness. She is a freelance writer, and has success as an online satirical advice columnist. She is also on the Internet, but do not confuse her for the other Ariel Barnes who is a successful male cellist. Enjoy…

We obsess over the label of being “kind,” but for what? So we can sleep better at night? Is it for the sake of talking about it and looking superior? Or is it so we can tally up all our good deeds and think we’re worth a fast pass to the front of the line at the pearly gates when our time comes?

Kindness is not our true nature. We are selfish people and sometimes that’s okay. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary. When your plane is going down, you have to put on your oxygen mask before your fellow passengers.

You can’t always be kind to yourself and to others and still live happily. When you put another’s happiness before yours, your mental health crumbles and your physical health isn’t too far behind.

I have been a hateful person because of kindness. In hoping to undo a lot of wrongs to make something right, I hurt a good friend of mine. From the start my intent was polluted with selfishness. In short, I had been friends with someone for years, but I never wanted anything more than the friendship we had. I was content, but I can’t say the feeling was the same on his end. He always asked for more, one way or another, and that’s where he went wrong.

I have always put myself first in relationships, but this time I wanted to see if the alternative could work and it did not. It actually backfired in my face and in my kindness I was cruel.

He knew I was romantically unreliable. He knew I was not invested in him the way he was invested in me. He knew I had someone else on my mind. Even with all that, we still dated for a while because I knew that’s what he wanted. I gave it a shot because I thought he deserved it. For years, I had constantly disappointed this person and thought maybe I could undo that by making some sort of sad excuse for a real relationship work—generosity at its finest. I felt I owed something to him for all the times he had waited for me. Through guilt, I tried to will myself to create a loving something out of nothing and my mind and body reacted as if I was ill. I was just trying to be kind. I just wanted to make him happy.

By being what at first seemed “kind,” I turned myself into a hateful person. I couldn’t tell if I was hanging out with him because he wanted to or because I wanted to feel “kind.” I caught myself badmouthing him. I would look him up and down and wonder what I was thinking. I would roll my eyes at the things he said. I would even think about someone else. I felt like I was putting on a show for him—an eternal act out of guilt. I didn’t hate him, I just knew I would never and could never have the feelings he had for me. Kindness had trapped me and I couldn’t be the one to break it off with him.

In time, he noticed the zipper on the back of my sheep’s clothing. He could tell I had nothing, but platonic feelings for him, as hard as I tried to fake it. I thought I could make this person feel loved when he could not have been farther from it. He freed me from my guilt and we no longer speak. I know I deserve that.

If you’re not a kind person, don’t be pretend to be kind. Don’t put on an act for people. You are not a show. Be what you truly are, but be kind to yourself first and foremost. Kindness does not reign above all, truth does and the truth cannot always be kind.

Twitter | @arielabarnes
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Eating Crow

PrintToday, a long time friend, Chris Douglas, shares a fable of kindness. As an international traveller and trader, he has had the unique perspective to witness and touch how other cultures embrace kindness. His vignette is a reflection of these experiences. Enjoy…

Thinking about kindness one warm and sunny day, I visited a family of crows roosting in Aesop’s head. We sat inside the old storyteller’s spacious and well-decorated skull. The Crows had set out an antique pitcher of wine along with a fine variety of cheeses.

“The line between kindness and cruelty,” Mr. Crow began, “might as well be traced by a snail. It’s too slowly drawn and too invisible to be of use to humans in this modern world. A translucent ribbon of slime measured out by an accident of nature. You know it to crisscross your lives but try very hard not to see it.”

“And you know what’s so weird about human kindness? Humans are so anthropocentric – sorry to generalize here – so anthropocentric that you think you invented it. Kindness. You think you’re the first creatures to like family and friends more than strangers.

“By the way this is a thing with you. You come up with a word and stick it on something that already exists. Then you plant it on nature like a flag on a mountain.”

Mr. Crow pointed his wings at unseen objects around the room.

“‘This is our beach! That’s our sun!’ That’s what you sound like. Oh here’s another example: ‘This is my slave.’ Thank you for bringing us into that slavery bullshit. Jim Crow? Only dark colored animal you could think of?”

My gaze drops to the plate in my lap. A tower of cheese and crackers seemed to have pecked itself to pieces.

“Ok it’s not like we crows don’t understand theft. We do. Especially when it comes to food. Sorry by the way.”

Mr. Crow made me a fresh plate of brie and crackers, then continued.

“The point is that kindness isn’t yours. Human. The only thing about it that’s yours is the inconsistency: when some people deserve your kindness and when they don’t. When they share blood? When they’re from the same neighborhood? It doesn’t make sense.

“Just look at…now where did I put them?”

Mr. Crow flew out of the room. In the pause Mrs. Crow poured me another cup of wine. We shared a knowing glance about her excitable and forgetful husband. Mr. Crow returned with papers in his claws: clippings from newspapers and magazines. Paragraphs were highlighted. Notes were added on the margins – some doodles as well.

“I don’t want to lecture you, but look at your poor people. You’ll begrudge them a miserable subsistence but you don’t stop their poverty.

And look at the situation with refugees from your Syrian war! You’ll take them in but you do not stop the fighting. You call this kindness? We call it prolonging the suffering and murder of your own species.”

“Not that we mind humanity’s homicidal tendencies,” Mrs. Crow said. She made a sweeping gesture at pictures on the wall.

Mrs. Crow came from a family of naturally gifted photographers. Verdun. Constantinople. Magdeburg. Sarajevo. Vacation photos from Mrs. Crow’s travels with Mrs. Raven, a friend since her college semester abroad. In one picture there’s even a younger version of my father smiling at me.

In the silence I pretended to scrutinize a few of these pictures for the first time. Mr. Crow put a wing on my hand. There is a shared memory of heated argument, sudden action, an accident with a hammer, and neighbors…no, friends…who could keep a secret.

“We don’t mind at all. Every animal has a reason to kill. We just don’t understand your idea of kindness and maybe we never will.”

Mr. Crow nods. This time it is Mrs. Crow who leaves the room and comes back with a book. An English translation of the Poetic Edda.

“You know about the Norse god Odin and the ravens. Huginn and Muninn. From your perspective the ravens are maybe Odin’s spies, bringing him information from around the world. In my opinion they’re not just spying for Odin – they’re spying on him too. They’re fascinated by this animal. They want to know how this god nearly gets his entire kind killed, lets the End of the World happen during his rule, how this supremely powerful creature gets himself eaten by a dog.

“Ravens and crows are different birds, you know, but they have more in common than ravens and wolves. Still…did you know that ravens and wolves will sometimes share a kill? Do you wonder if they had a bite of Odin, too, when Fenrir was done with his corpse?”

What Kindness Means to Me

PrintToday, my friend and colleague, Amy Haworth, shares what kindness means to her. As a mother and mentor, professional and philosopher, she braves the unknown with her curiosity and the hunger to learn. And by day she leads organizational readiness at a multi-billion dollar software company…a team dedicated to enable its company to adapt and grow to the constant change required to keep the engine of its massive business humming. Enjoy…

“Everyone just wants to be happy.” Look around. All those people, all those faces, all those stories. How different would we be if every time we saw a person, we told ourselves, “At their core, he or she (like me) just wants to be happy?”

Kindness is a funny thing. What I mean is…watch what happens to the other person when you are kind. Kindness creates an automatic reaction of indebtedness. And, that’s what I mean by ‘kindness is a funny thing.’ Why must we feel a need to reciprocate? Do we not feel worthy of another’s kindness? Or, do we feel embarrassed that we had a need someone noticed and filled? Think about the last time someone bought you a cup of coffee. What was your reaction? Perhaps the ultimate kindness is to let someone else be kind to us.

Yet, here I am assuming we all define kindness in a similar way. For clarity, let me say that I define it as doing something unexpectedly unselfish as a result of living with a spirit of grace. Let’s dig into that…

Unexpectedly unselfish: A few weeks before the holidays, I stopped by the Dollar Store for some wrapping paper. The lines were long and people were in the holiday rush. At the busy checkout line, the customer in front of me paid with cash and insisted on digging for 26 cents. My first unkind thought was:

“You’ve got to be kidding me, lady. Just give the clerk a dollar and move on.”

When she failed to find the 26 cents, I felt the weight of dimes and quarters in the wallet I was holding and quickly delivered 26 cents to the clerk. The customer was so appreciative, awkwardly expressed a wish to somehow give to me, and moved on. I felt slightly embarrassed. My donation attracted too much attention, and her gratitude was much more than a measly 26 cents deserved. However, I was buoyed by the joy of helping another human being. That’s the magic of it, you see. We work so hard to “find purpose,” “make an impact,” and “change the world.” When really, we may be focusing on the wrong things. Being mindful of the micro moments, we will find that we don’t need to start a non-profit. An act of service, an encouraging word, and extra time to listen may be our purpose, our impact, and our change in the world.

Living with a spirit of grace: I am a spiritual person. I believe we walk in the influence of the divine. I’ve found an expression for those beliefs through western religious traditions, yet there is more beyond what our human understanding can explain. One of the fundamental beliefs of my spiritual path is that we have been given “grace:” that the divine freely gives us more than we deserve and that there isn’t a way to earn it. With thanks for that grace, I strive to give it to others. I am imperfect. So is everyone else. If we gave grace to others, and ourselves we’d see how easy it is to let go of judgment, anger, and the differences between us…free and unmerited favor. We all just want to be happy.

My most recent realization about life and kindness is that we’re all only one introduction away from being friends. An unexpected deed for a stranger (keeping an eye on his shopping cart while he grabs a forgotten item at the grocery store) would be expected if we’d been introduced at a friend’s party the evening before. So, instead of showing kindness to strangers, I’ve begun to act like all these strangers are acquaintances. I say ‘hi’ as if we’ve met, act polite as if we’ll see each other again, and strike up conversation as if it’s not the first chat we’ve had. Breaking social norms can be a little uncomfortable at first, but if we all started doing it, I guarantee we’d generate energy of kindness. A spirit, if you will. Energy like this would surely have power to repel selfishness, disconnection and loneliness.

We are all in this together. And, we might as well be happy.

How You Are Remembered

PrintThis week, to offer new voices and a different perspective, guest writers will contribute to Winter of Kindness. I have reached out to my friends and colleagues and asked what kindness meant to them. Some responded with opinions, others their musings, and all have a rare story to share…their own.

Today, my father, Wayne Barnes, who introduces himself in his tale, shares how kindness can stay with someone. He is a man who lives by the phrase, “recruit everyone, everyday.” His unfathomable awareness and calm allows him learn and befriend just about anyone he meets…but most of all, to make a memory in the process. Enjoy…

A year ago, when we were planning for Germantown High School’s 50th reunion, I realized our attendance numbers had been dwindling over the decades, because of girls changing last names upon marriage, and people moving out of the area and just losing touch.

Having been in the FBI for 29 years, where I used to find people who did not want to be found—and were actual fugitives—I told the search committee I would be glad to take on the list of hard-to-finds. After a few hundred calls to people with the same names as our fellow alumni, (even if not still in Philly), a number of classmates, who had been “lost” to us, were found, and came to our reunion. The advent of computer database searches did the trick, and it felt good.

In going through the lists of already-found people, I saw your name, but would not be speaking with you because you weren’t a “fugitive” alum. I figured I would see you at the April 25th reunion and have an opportunity to speak with you then. As events would have it, you were not able to attend, but what I wanted to say to you sort of festered away at me. There was an incident in my life where you played a pivotal role, although you might not have thought about it even a few days after it happened, but believe me, I did.

Leeds Junior High School had a soccer team. If you can recall back that far, we were in around the 8th grade, so it was probably 1961 and we were thirteen. Back then, I used to sit in the front of every class, both because my last name began with an early letter in the alphabet, but mostly because I was the shortest one in the class. I recall that dear friend Freddy Turoff and I, literally, saw eye-to-eye, and he went far in his gymnastics at Temple, where short stature was an advantage. But it was what happened on a fateful day, when I was “the smallest kid on the block,” that was imprinted on my brain for all time.

I had wanted to play soccer. I figured I was a very fast little runner, but Senior Diggs, our Spanish teacher, and the Leeds soccer coach, demanded all players have cleats. I was from “south of Upsal” Street in West Oak Lane, and our families had lower incomes than those farther north in Mount Airy. The point is, there was no way I could ever afford cleats, and my normal Converse sneakers wouldn’t cut it for Mr. Diggs. Standing on the edge of the soccer field at Mt. Pleasant and Lowber, with the team practicing most of a block south at Sedgewick, right across from Leeds, I was lamenting my plight when a gang of bigger boys came walking up the street. I knew who they were, right away, and saw only bad things about to happen.

The previous week, a friend in my Boy Scout troop, Johnny Lonholm, and I had been in the schoolyard at St. Raymond’s Elementary, several blocks away. He was a real prankster. The Catholic schools started classes a week before us, and he stood outside their classroom windows taunting those inside who were already condemned to attend class. I was with him, but wasn’t taunting. I even tried to stop him, because it was a stupid thing to do, but to no avail.

So now the “big kids” from St. Ray’s, walking up the street, saw me and rushed to surround me. There were maybe half-a-dozen and, as always, I was the smallest. They began to taunt me, as Johnny had taunted them through their classroom windows. But now it was getting nasty, really for no reason, but to push their weight around. They wanted to know where Johnny was but, of course, I had no idea. They began to rough me up, pushing me back and forth between them and knocked me down. So, yeah, while I had been an innocent bystander, the previous week, now I was in the thick of things taking the wrath of guys out to get somebody else, and I was the whipping-boy for their anger. (It would be years before I would learn the finer points of “freedom of association” in law school, but little good it did me in 1961.)

My clothes were already a mess, now being tossed around on the ground, and my greatest fear was actually that my mother would be upset with me. But they were about to get down and real dirty, and I had a genuine gut-wrenching fear they would all pile on and do the worst by me.

Then, like a herd of stallions kicking up a cloud of dust, I heard the stampede of many cleated feet coming across the field, with you in the lead. You were so much taller than me—you looked almost like a giant—and others were behind you. You stepped right into the mix and made your presence known. You proclaimed I was a friend of yours, and—What’s the problem?

From my position on the ground, I could only be an observer, but you had taken my fate from their hands and it was now in yours. There was never a hero, to me, quite like you, and at that moment. I recall your hands flexing into fists at your sides—something not lost on the Catholic boys—and I don’t even remember who else was behind you backing you up. It was truly a them-against-us moment, and the most intense I had experienced.

Then, as cowards do, when confronted with greater size and strength, especially when their forte is bullying-for-bullying sake, the St. Ray’s kids skulked away. I never saw them, again, assiduously avoiding their schoolyard for the rest of my days in the old neighborhood.

You leaned down to make sure I was okay and helped me up. Then you all went back to the other end of the soccer field to resume practice, and it was over. Well, it was over for you, but I never forgot it. Even when we started at Germantown High in the tenth grade, I was still only five-feet tall at age 15, weighed 100 lbs., and was the smallest boy in the school. But I would grow thirteen inches in three years, eventually reaching 6’1”. I would be on four athletic teams—swim, gym, soccer, and track—and become the Student Government president. I went to Penn State, Villanova Law, and then right into the FBI as a Special Agent where I became an expert at catching spies. Even there, I was always the straightest arrow in the Bureau’s quiver.

You never know what events from your youth will later steer you, or in what direction, but when you suffer an injustice, no matter how short the timeframe, especially when the results could be truly dire, it does affect you. It even sets you up to want to be the hero for someone else in a time of need, and I have been. So, Rich, if you have children or grandchildren, they should know that a long time ago, you did something heroic and came to my rescue. Now, only 54 years later, I wanted to remind you of what had happened, way back when, and thank you for what you did for me.

Our Tenth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week we explored archetypes. They are “themes…or patterns in our lives…that represent behaviors that influence us to act in a specific way.”

First we explored the primal archetypes of wind, water, fire and earth…and how their powers both control and relinquish. We next discussed the lessons our guardian angels teach us, which is “the world is not a random chaos, with no reason for the goodwill or heartache we face, but a paradise, for us to claim our fulfillment if we are bold enough to do so.” And we learned from our inner demon that… “The only way to vanquish this monstrous atrocity is to wish it away. It does not exist, for it is an invention of the worst versions of us.”

We next talked about the good in animals and how it does not matter if it is a tiny ant, or a grand bear…they all have a tale to share. Then we talked about leadership qualities at work, and the difference a kind leader can make. We explored how your outlook on sex is telling of your behavior, and the lessons we can learn from the scoundrels and the gentlemen. Finally we talked about lovers and fighters, how we must be both in a relationship, and how important it is to be so kindly.

And I will conclude our tenth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…as long as you have the right perspective, with eyes to see and ears to hear, you will never stop learning. Seek new points of view, and use your judgment to decide what ideas are best for you. The ones that clash with yours may give you the best lessons. Some will teach you things you are comfortable with, and some will challenge you. Do not shy away from what makes you uncomfortable…even if it is not best for you, for you can least to observe, and find wisdom in knowing what is not right for you.

Your successes, your failures, your mentors, your adversaries, your blessings and your mistakes are the lesson plan of your life. Learning is just one of many ways we can better ourselves. And may you, for tomorrow, always find ways to grow, today.

Lovers and Fighters

PrintAre you a lover or a fighter?

If you believe this is asking if we choose forgiveness and acceptance, temperance and grace when facing adversity, you may see yourself as a lover. If you believe it is asking if we choose strength and fortitude, confidence and commitment when exposed to conflict, you may see yourself as a fighter.

Or do you see the question differently?

Like all archetypes, this is a metaphor for us to challenge the way we view our experiences. Do we choose to see a challenge as a learning experience or an obstacle? We must be both lovers and fighters, when the time is right.

Consider when you are in a new relationship. The experience is rich for potential contention and misunderstanding as you learn more about your partner. Remember, when you are in a relationship you are equals. As I wrote weeks ago…

…Acknowledge you both are on a journey together, as two souls. His or her values and interests, although in most cases are similar or the same, will differ slightly from yours. Be aware of those differences, and celebrate them with him or her.

There will be plenty loving and fighting as you grow together…or apart.

So, how do you fight? When you fight, you can let your emotions fly with involuntary reactions. You may take the boiled-over stress from the day and cast it upon your partner. You may be overly critical of your partner. You may assume intensions, which leads to petty grievances. But these approaches will lead to contempt, regret and not valuing your partner. Or…when you fight, you can control how you express your frustrations. You can focus on voicing your disappointment, even sternly, but always in a dialog. Although upset you are conscious not to hurt who you love, even if they inadvertently hurt you. Most of all, you allow growth during the conflict, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. If you ignore a problem and let it fester, it can rot the relationship and undermine it.

So, how do you love? Remember, we are either loving or fighting. When we do not fight, we love. How do you treat your partner, every day? How we love is a conscious choice, like a muscle we exercise to grow stronger. When you are with him or her, you can actively acknowledge your partner’s value, or be distant and assume your partner’s presence. You can count his or her wants equal to your own, or make most of the decisions for the both of you. You can enjoy the learning process of getting to know your partner, or not care about details. You can be giving and generous, or expect your partner to fulfill your emotional needs. And you can relish shared joy, knowing the happiest moments make the most impactful memories…or will you be remembered as being disinterested?

Whether we fight and love…no matter how angry we may be, or content we are in the moment…we must acknowledge the power of kindness, and its ability to breed further kindness. It has the profound ability to defuse and uplift, give value to those who feel unloved, and nurture a relationship.

We are both lovers and fighters. May we always be so, kindly.

The Gentleman and the Scoundrel

PrintI believe men and women can be anything they want. We discussed this when we explored the chivalric code weeks ago. I wrote…

Gender roles exist, but a man can be dominant or submissive, just as a woman can be either. The ability to be vulnerable, to show sensitivity and to allow a person to perceive your emotions is not a counter to the chivalric code…to have the will to purposely, with confidence, show such qualities is a strength.

There is give and take in traditional gender roles. It allows us the freedom to be forceful or vulnerable, as long as there is mutual respect. But sometimes our vision is clouded in how we value others and ourselves. When we define ourselves by things other than values…such as by appearances, talents or things we own…and see people as objects…for what they can do for us…then we lose common ground and mutual respect. This may be easy to do when we consider sex. How we treat our bodies, and how we let others treat our bodies is a reflection of how we value our lives. And how we treat our minds, and the people who we let enter our quiet spaces is a reflection of our self-worth.

Consider the scoundrel. He is a cruel man who values the material. His behavior is ego-driven, and he seeks instant gratification. He is competitive, and must “win” by having others “lose.” He is compelled by what he has…the most lavish lifestyle, the fastest car, and the desirable women who turns heads. He sees sex as meaningless, as a bragging right…as such a behavior, he believes, makes him more desirable. A scoundrel treats his sexual partners as objects for pleasure. He may view sex as his identity…he values knowing he is sexually desired and dominant. But this will never satisfy him…as I wrote in my novel, Storyteller’s Rose: “Such a pursuit, such a chase, will yield the hunter no prize. It would leave him seeking what does not exist to fill his emptiness.”

Consider the gentleman. Character values guide his behavior. He does not rely on others for satisfaction or a sense of completeness. He treats his friends with mutual respect, sharing common interests that fulfill him. And he treats his partner in the highest regard, considering her wants and desires as equal to his own. At the very least, he may see sex as a casual recreation, but with respect with his partner. Or he may treat it with the greatest of sanctity…for religious or spiritual reasons, as a sacred covet with the woman he is destined to be with. Or possibly, he may see it as the highest form of exchange…when they lay together they are equals, and give all of themselves to the other.

Why do we treat sex the way we do? Why are the scoundrel and the gentleman so different? The scoundrel is not aware of the impact of his actions, and is not aware of why he acts the way he does…only it feels good. He may have all the excuses…because of past hurt, or he learned this behavior from others, or it is the way he believes the world is…but that will not change his intent, or the hurt he may cause others. The gentleman gives no excuses for his actions and does not fall victim to social pressure. He knows why he acts the way he does and holds himself to one standard…his own.

What do you think? Do you have pity for the scoundrel, or cynicism for the gentleman? Do you think there is a middle ground…or should there be? How can kindness impact how we treat our partners, and ourselves?

This is for you decide, for no one controls your life but you.

Working Kindly

PrintIs work just…work?

It can be, if you let it. Consider how much time we spend earning our living. Wouldn’t it be an awful waste of time if we didn’t enjoy what we do? But it’s more than what we do…it’s how we do it…that can make it enjoyable. We must acknowledge our colleagues make up a community, with shared values and interests. We must act with mindfulness of how our behavior may impact those people. This is the way of “working kindly.” But not everyone has that mindset…or knows how. Let’s explore how we may or may not “work kindly.”

The survivor is someone who knows his company is an ecosystem, with balances between groups that make it function. He is not concerned with the means or the ends of his job, but producing the results he is expected, in order to keep his employment. In many ways he is an opportunist, taking advantage of the political structure that runs the corporate machine for his gain. As a leader, he would be a ladder climber…someone who finds validation by hierarchy, and cares more about someone’s title rather than his or her merit. He uses his job as a vehicle, and risks using people the same way because he cares more about surviving than his fellow employee. He is an unkind leader.

The laggard is someone who resists change. He may be a highly effective worker, and views his job as a means to an end. It is a platform to enable his fulfillment, which is something not connected to his job. In many ways he is a rebel, as anything new would challenge his way of being, making him uncomfortable. And at all costs he wants to remain comfortable. Should he exhibit leadership, he may become a lone wolf…leading by example, running a tight-knit team that is reluctant to do anything different than what they have always done. He is a risk-adverse leader.

The mentor sees people as the most important asset of a company. She is entrenched in the company’s brand. She cares about what the company produces and how they produce it. She has a grace in the way she works, and invests in making the people she works with better at what they do. She would become a servant-leader…ensuring her employees have the spotlight to advertise their achievements and setting them up for success. She leads not by hierarchy but by creditability. She is an empowering leader.

The professional loves her job. She is a fanatic in the “how” and what she produces becomes a by-product of her happiness. Her personal style is defined by how she interacts with her colleagues and clients…and she treats everyone equally. She can play any role, on any level, because what defines her is her work ethics, not her job title. When she becomes a leader, she would be executive. Her personal style now becomes the kindness of her employees. She understands what it takes to run a business, and realizes the impacts of what they produce are as important as how they do it. She is a kind leader.

What do you imagine when you consider these types of work archetypes? What kind of leader are you?

Lessons from Animals

PrintAs a child my favorite book series was “Redwall “ by Brian Jacques. It was a tale about woodland animals living in harmony in a grand Abbey called Redwall. The novels usually ended with a horde of vermin attempting to conquer the Abbey, forcing the peaceful animals to defend their way of life. This series was my literary introduction into such a fantasy world, with profound imagery, invented rituals, and inspiring archetypes.

What struck me most, especially as a child, was how Jacques created a world of good and evil. In this world, we found that mice, otters, squirrels, hares, moles, hedgehogs and badgers were peacekeeping animals…creatures we view as “clean” and “compassionate.” And vermin, such as rats, weasels, snakes, ferrets, ravens and stoats, where the antagonists, because we view them as “dirty” and “destructive.”

This analogy is elegant in a tale meant for young adults. In our story…in our lives…animal archetypes may not be as black and white. Let’s explore a few common archetypes as seen in literature and cultural retellings.

Let’s start with what is small. Ants represent industry because of how the whole of the colony is greater than the sum of the parts. They represent community, hard work and teamwork. Scorpions represent vigilance, due to their resilience to survive extreme conditions, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Battle-ready and deadly, size does not matter when facing a scorpion. And the butterfly is transformation…to start out as one thing and become something completely different. She represents beauty and gentleness.

Now, let’s discuss reptiles and amphibians. The snake is the biblical representation of original sin, a deceiver and trickster. But it also represents rebirth and power by how it sheds its skin. Frogs represent peace and spiritual cleansing. They are hidden beauty, and teach us to trust our hearts before our eyes. The salamander is the spirit of fire, a lore that came to being during ancient times. Salamanders hibernate in rotting logs, and when campfires were started, they would jump from the flames.

Let’s explore animals from the skies. The hawk, due to its predatorily fierceness and keen vision, knows truth, shifting between the physical and divine worlds. She represents intensity of spirit. The raven represents the unknown and explores mystery. She can be both destroyer and builder, and her messages are shrouded in riddles. The owl represents wisdom, as she is the symbol of the Greek goddess Athena. She keeps her knowledge in solitude, but aids others if asked.

Let’s explore beasts. Lions represent leadership and fearlessness. Seen as the king, he supports family, civil structure, and temperament. Tigers, in contrast, are solitary creatures of tactic and grace. They possess great concentration for focus, courage and conviction, and are often viewed as healers. Bears are seen as mother figures for their fortitude and inner strength. They are protectors of their cubs, and able to weather the worst winter storms.

Lastly, we explore canines. The fox is cunning. He senses the subtlest of changes, and slyly responds to outsmart his challenger. The dog is unconditional love and loyalty. She has short memories for forgiveness, and forever companionship. Wolves, in contrast, are spiritual teachers that embrace balance within your life. They show discipline to follow your destiny.

Combining archetypes creates fascinating results. A dog represents loyalty, and a wolf represents learning. But when you have a tale about a sheepdog and a wolf, it creates a natural good and evil plot that uplifts the sheepdog and condemns the wolf. Remember, there is no good or evil in these archetypes, only our perceptions based on what we value. What conflicts with our values will be evil, and what supports our values will be good…such as protecting our herd of sheep from a wolf.

There is wisdom in knowing these archetypes, for they all have a tale to tell, and a value to contribute to our lives. But from this wisdom we must not ignore there are universal evils. There are ideologies and behaviors that cause destruction and death…the anti-life to our fulfillment, to tear down our earthly efforts to watch the world burn. This is the absence of kindness…cruelty…and a theme we will discuss at length in a future week.

Angels and Demons

PrintThis Winter of Kindness has given us a few themes…empowerment, acting with intent and mindfulness. We also discussed identity. Our identity is defined by what we value, and what fulfills us. For it to be healthy, it should not be based on physical characteristics or ideologies. For example, if you identify yourself by physical appearance, you may have a crisis when you become old. Or if you identify yourself by an ideology, like a strict conservative or liberal political view, you may be unwilling to accept an opposing view.

The things that happen to us also influence our identity…both good and bad. If we are blessed with comfort and ease it may be easier s to be positive. Or if we are stricken with strife and hardship, it may be harder to be so. When we are faced with these gifts or obstacles, it is our natural curiosity that gives them a name…its own identity, as it influences our own. When someone is abundantly kind to us we want to know who he or she is, so we can respond to our benefactor. And when someone is cruel, we want to do the same for our enemy.

We want to know who helps us. These are our guardian angels. These are our guides who bring us good fortune…when we discussed finding partners to love they look for things on our “love list” and use sage judgment to find our match. But it’s more than that. Sometimes our guardian angels look for the things we are unaware we want, and introduce them into our lives when we need them most. They are also protectors…our safeguards when we use poor judgment or lack awareness to the calamity around the corner. Their existence is meant for us to find fulfillment…and our destiny. This concept has been in literature for thousands of years. Homer wrote of it in the Odyssey, during the literary Age of Heroes, when Athena, the god of wisdom, visited the protagonist, Odysseus, to guide him to his fate. I am not asking you to believe in a robed man or woman with wings, invisible to the eye, seeking out your next act of benevolence. It is a metaphor to help us believe the world is not a random chaos, with no reason for the goodwill or heartache we face, but a paradise, for us to claim our fulfillment if we are bold enough to do so.

But we also want to know who hurts us. These are our inner demons. When we do not let go of the hurt that wronged us…be it from a physical or emotional scar, “the pain starts to develop an identity, an association with the person who caused cruelty. And when something has an identity, and has burrowed deep into our minds, it is much harder to kill.” When we let our minds wonder, and we start to have anxiety about the past, or doubt about the future…it is our inner demons that gnaws at our identity. It is a nameless, faceless beast with talons and fangs and an unbearable roar. When we become its prey, it commands our fears and seizes our bodies into paralysis. Our inner demon knows our greatest weaknesses…our cracking point in the wall that holds back the worst of us. It scratches at our emotions to question the truths we believe, force us to suspect the motives of friends who never gave us reason to, and transfers the cruelty of people who have hurt us onto people who never would. Our confidence is our shield when combating our inner demons, and with every blow we endure its hardened metal can become cracked and broken. And what is our sword to slay this fiend? We have none. For the only way to vanquish this atrocity is to wish it away. Our inner demons do not exist, for it is an invention of the worst versions of us.

Know your angels and demons. They will be your guide to the best and worst of you.

Wind, Water, Fire and Earth

PrintWeeks ago we talked about how we can be the heroes of our stories. Just like the stories we see in movies, or read in books, our life’s story has many of the same elements. There are characters that support, accompany or challenge us. There is a setting, a place where our story happens, that influences how we live. There are also events that unfold into a plot, depending on what chapter we are in our lives, be it our childhood, adolescence or adulthood. But there are also themes…patterns around us that influence how we behave. If we are aware of them, and embrace them for what they are, they can be tremendous to our growth.

These themes…patterns in our lives are archetypes. They represent behaviors that influence us to act in a specific way. One such archetype is knowledge…usually represented by an apple but acquiring it comes at a cost. Another is an obstacle, such as a mountain and exists as a challenge for us to overcome. This week we will explore a few archetypes and their power to influence us.

And today we will start with the most basic of archetypes…natural elements.

Wind is freedom, it is liberation, and it is constantly changing. In my novel, “The Storyteller’s Rose,” I wrote… “The wind has no restrictions. No leash commands its course. No whip harnesses its power. It is carefree and unobstructed, intangible and uncontrollable.” Heroes are often associated with the wind, as it is the symbol of the journey. It also shows us control is an illusion. We may rage against it, but the wind will always rage harder. If we accept this we can flow, and not be thrown, by it.

Water is creation, it is reflection and it is cleansing. It can nourish and it can heal. It offers a sense of ease and relaxation. It is often the symbol of a supporting character in a hero’s journey. But water can also come at us like a torrential rain, a tidal wave that represents inner struggles. When we face a flood it can be an opportunity to wash away the filth that clutters our lives or it can drown us. When a hero submerges in water, and reemerges, she is reborn.

Fire is intensity, it is power, and it is passion. It can burn and destroy but it can also fuel and catapult forth. It is your warmth and guiding light when all has gone cold and dark. It is often the symbol of the warrior. It is also a symbol for beauty and seduction, a smoldering energy within you that drives your earthly desires. But you must be careful for it can consume you. It can be an intoxicating and fickle force that turns you to ash. But if you are careful, and respect its beauty, you may learn it cannot be tamed…but can be harnessed. And although it can rage, if not nourished, a calm zephyr can extinguish it.

Earth is fortitude, it is strength and it is growth. It can be trusted since it is a constant presence in all our lives. It is often the symbol of the mentor in the hero’s journey. It represents stability, temperament, and a balance between life and death. It is the cradle in which all life blossoms, representing fertility, longevity and endurance. But Mother Earth’s equilibrium is like a swaying pendulum. It can veer to calm, peace and tranquility, but also swing to quakes, eruptions and hurricanes.

So…who and what are the wind, water, fire and earth archetypes in your life? How do they influence your behavior? Who are your heroes, supporters, warriors and mentors? No one archetype is a strength or weakness, as they all have roles to play in your story. Remember, these archetypes, in their own way, can guide you toward kindness. May you embrace it and grow.

Our Ninth Ritual of Kindness

PrintSo, how has kindness inspired us this week? This was “Random Acts of Kindness” week and we explored the organizations and things people do to promote kind acts, aspiring to make the world a better place. I also shared advice a friend offered…

“The greatest contribution we as individuals can offer is the betterment of society…to make the world we live in a better place. It does not take a revolution to do so, simply a conscious act of will, every day.”

We then explored ways to inspire kind deeds. We talked about small, everyday ways we can do this, such as complimenting someone. While others you may need to plan, like buying someone a meal. And some you may need a larger commitment, such as volunteering a weekend to help a cause you believe in. We reinforced these ideas by sharing stories of kindness, and encouraged you to share yours too.

At the root of kindness there is teaching and learning. I wrote that…Kindness is taught by seeing, by doing, by repeating. “Random Acts of Kindness” day is a “cultural phenomenon” and shows how “how good breeds further good.” The value of teaching kindness has not gone unnoticed by larger organizations and they have produced media to encourage the importance of kindness. They also share “kindness techniques” to express empathy and manage conflicts.

But we must also teach ourselves how to be kind. As with any behavior we want to exhibit, we must practice to strengthen it. We talked about several self-improvement books we can explore and investing in our emotional health. And, “we must become our own best friends when investing in self-kindness.”

And I will conclude our ninth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…your reasons do not matter, as long as you have the purity of your intent. It does not matter if you are driven by religious beliefs, aspire to a calling greater than ourselves, support “pay it forward,” or simply enjoy how it feels when you do good. What matters is the indelible impact you have on the people and things around you when you make the most of that moment to be kind.

Kindness is a means and ends onto itself.

Self-Kindness

PrintYesterday we explored how kindness is taught to others. Sometimes the most impactful lessons are the ones we teach ourselves, and that is why it is important to invest in self-kindness. Kindness is a behavior…a way of being…that we must practice to maintain. There is no “kindness quota” that once we meet a number of kind acts we can “turn off” being kind for the day. Kindness is always “on” to how we treat others and ourselves, and we should invest in ways to improve our mindfulness in how we can be kind.

Reading is one such way. I cannot say what books will guide you to an epiphany, for an author’s style and ability to connect with a reader will vary from person to person. However, I did find clarity by reading “If the Buddha Dated” by Charlotte Kasl. The reflections of her spiritual guide allowed me to realize acts are sometimes ego-driven, and they can distort how you can become the best version of yourself. “The Power of Kindness,” by Piero Ferrucci was a sage reminder of the values instilled by kind acts and those who perform them. It allowed me to ask better questions to lead me to be more mindful. There are many books you can explore…these are only two that touched me.

Perhaps the most important tool we have for self-kindness is investing in our emotional health. Think about it…when our bodies are hurt, we nurture it back to health, be it with a Band-Aid or a trip to the doctor. But we so often neglect the same behavior when we experience emotional injury, such as loneliness, rejection or failure. Indeed, these daily occurrences are as harmful as a wound, and they are all too often left untreated. And what happens when a wound is not tended to? It can become infected. When we fall into the despair of loneliness we twist our perceptions into believing we are unloved…when our family and friends care for us very much. When we face rejection, it only compounds that loneliness and we build false stories about how we are viewed, tearing ourselves down into something untrue. And, when we face failure, we sometimes put up roadblocks in our minds to prevent us from trying again. By comparing our non-successes to others we become paralyzed to try a different approach to become successful. The only difference is how we see the challenge we face…instead of avoiding rejection, and therefore pain when our frail emotional state is already injured, we brave it.

One powerful technique to reinforce positive behavior when faced with negative emotional urges is a distraction. When you sense your mind replaying a destructive scene, or anticipating a hurtful future…do something else, if only for a few minutes. Phone a friend, read an inspiring chapter from your favorite book, grab a drink you enjoy…only long enough for the urge to pass. Also be sure these distractions are not vices, such as toxic relationships or drugs…you do not want to escape your feelings, but overcome them consciously. You will find this technique, when reinforced over time, will reduce how your mind dwells on negative emotions.

We must become our own best friends when investing in self-kindness. Build self-confidence by reminding yourself of the good you are capable, the positive energy you put into the world, and the acknowledgement of your self worth. No one has the power to take that away from you, especially those who cast destructive forces of loneliness, rejection and failure. By being kind to ourselves, we will gain the clarity to become kinder to others.

Teaching Kindness

PrintThis week I’ve had an opportunity to learn about some of the people who rally with the organizations that aspire kindness. Their causes were all noble…be it in response to tragic loss, or religious beliefs, or to “pay it forward,” or to have a greater purpose, or just to have kindness be a reason into itself. And all these organizations had something, besides kindness, in common…

…To teach how to be kind.

Kindness is taught by seeing, by doing, by repeating. Kindness is instilled and encouraged as a quality we want all people to exhibit. On days such as Random Acts of Kindness Day, we witness to a cultural phenomenon…a collective decision to go out of our way to “do good” for others. And when people see how good breeds further good, it has a resonating affect. Hopefully the reverberations from that impact are a reminder that we do not need a dedicated day to behave this way.

Some organizations take this idea a step further, and provide media to foster kindness education. They target youth and reward specific values, with the goal of molding behavior into a kinder outlook. Elementary lessons plans range from sharing, to following the rules, to understanding feelings, listening and good manners. As children become less self-centered, lessons include learning how to problem solve, how to help others, empathy, respect and managing stress. As they become more advanced they are taught healthy communication with integrity, how to resolve conflicts, combating peer pressure and learning to love yourself.

I believe this is the most indelible result of kindness. We can do a kind act, and perhaps make someone’s day better. We can behave kindly, and influence the people around us to consider a new way of being. We can all be subject to daily stress, or experience sorrow, or have anger and fear from life’s twists. But if we are able to instill in others the bright beacon of kindness then perhaps the darkest days of the people we meet will not be as bleak. For when you are not around, they can look within themselves and realize we are all helpless…all of us can be victim to hardships as well as lucky with prosperity…and all we can do is to get out and help someone, even if that someone is ourselves.

I hope kindness teaches you something, every day.

Stories of Kindness

PrintI hope yesterday was aspirational. Any day can offer opportunities to rekindle our “faith in humanity,” and I hope yesterday of all days gave you moments that took your breath away. I was fortunate to witness and read a few stories that took place on Random Acts of Kindness day. I would like to share a few of them…to reflect on how things ought to be.

As you read them, consider this…put yourself in the moment of the kind act. Imagine your thoughts as you observed the unfolding event. Then consider if you were committing the kind act…what must have been your reason to “do good?” Now, consider if you were receiving kindness…how would you feel before someone did good by you, and what would you feel after?

Think about how these three people were touched in that moment of kindness. How are they encouraged to foster such behavior in the future…and how would they treat others? If we are in a position to do good…to make things better…why wouldn’t we? I hope you think about the power we have to change our lives and others…the only thing stopping us is the decision to do so…

A man always picks a random dinner party when he visits his favorite restaurant, Cracker Barrel, to pay for their meal. He times it just right so he leaves before the waiter can point him out to the receiving dinner party…he is never interested in accolades, only the message the waiter is instructed to tell them, which is to “pay it forward.”

During a wintery day a woman, with her infant baby, noticed an elderly lady struggle through the snow. The mother offered to take the senior where she needed to go, despite the errands the mother needed to run.

A man was taking a taxi to work because his car was in the mechanic’s shop. Along the way he and the taxi driver saw a woman and a child in a disabled car in the middle of traffic. They pulled over and pushed her car out of harms way.

A woman would go to the dollar store sometimes and buy several umbrellas to keep in her car. When it was raining, if she noticed people stranded under overhangs or trees to stay dry, she would give them one.

A married couple would use their sowing knowledge to make hearts out of spare fabric. On Valentine’s Day they would randomly hand them out…just because.

A young man recently became handicapped and was unable to walk distances. While leaving a store, an elderly lady noticed he was having trouble and asked if he needed help. They ended up having a pleasant conversation for an hour.

A young woman kept aspirational quotes in her purse and would look for opportune places…such as a library book, a waiting room magazine, a restaurant table…to leave messages for the next person to find.

I hope these little stories show you it does not matter who you are, what you do, how old you are, or what is within your means…you can always try to make the world around you a better place.

Do Good Today

PrintToday is “random acts of kindness” day. I am, as I hope we all are, an advocate of what this day means…and what it is meant to do…to make the world we live a better place. If I could wordsmith, I would remove “random” from the day. Kindness is a behavior, not an act. To do something randomly kind today suggests the kindness we commit is a whim…a fluke, just for one day. I am confident we do not believe that, for today is a reminder of the good we can do all year. I believe kindness is a decision, within all of us…within all good people…to make ourselves and those around us better people.

I did some research, and fell short in what I was looking for. I could not discover why today, February seventeenth, is random acts of kindness day. I learned New Zealand has a national holiday for kindness on September first. I learned that Anne Herbert first wrote the phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” in 1982 on a restaurant napkin. These words eventually evolved into her best selling book. Other than that, the reason why today is “random acts of kindness” day may be random too. For us, in recognition of this day, I offer a list of possible “acts” you can perform. You do not need to do all, or any, for they range from simple activities to large time commitments. It is meant to inspire what you can do to help others…or even yourself…for a better tomorrow.

You can do these kindness activities among and between what you may already have planned. You don’t have to go out of your way, only take the time to be mindful in how you can inspire kindness in others.
• Offer a sense of cheer or levity to someone who is in poor spirits
• Be aware of your mood or disposition, and exhibit good manners
• Offer compliments freely, call out behavior you appreciate
• Forgive someone who has slighted you, it may not be about you…sometimes people just need to “love themselves” and never realized they did you wrong
• Welcome a new neighbor or colleague to the community or team
• Give your full attention when speaking with someone

You can do these kindness activities with some planning. It may require thought, effort or finance to make happen, but the impact will be worthwhile.
• Buy someone coffee, a drink or a meal…just because
• Send a card to a friend in appreciation of help they gave you
• Offer assistance if you see someone in duress…like offering change for a parking meter about to expire or helping to push a disabled car out of traffic
• Help a colleague who may be struggling at work
• Give up your spot in line for someone who looks like they are in a rush
• Bake treats for your neighbors or colleagues

You can do these kindness activities with an organized effort. With a little research, you can find charitable or social conscious organizations that coordinate events. It may be as simple as showing up and dedicating your time for the day.
• Donate blood, or any surplus of goods
• Volunteer for community focused event, such as school our house constructions
• Volunteer for an environmental focused event, such as a park or beach cleanup
• Volunteer for a cause that will help the unfortunate, such as a food drive
• Offer your expertise to teach others in your community, such as coaching children or participating in a Parent, Teacher Association

…May you have a kind, random act of kindness day, and inspire others with your actions.

People Who Do Good

PrintThis week is a special week, and tomorrow is a special day. This is “random acts of kindness” week, and tomorrow is “random acts of kindness” day. It is fitting we ended last week discussing how to love others and ourselves. These few days are dedicated to people who embody the essence of kindness, all year round. If you recall…

Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others.

While good people act as they do for many reasons…because of their passion for a cause, how it makes them feel, their spiritual beliefs, or to pay it forward…they all strive to make the world a better place. When I was younger, I learned sage advice from a friend. I came to him perplexed about my life’s journey…feeling my ability as an engineer could have been better used in aerospace or energy development…that is, to help take mankind get to the stars, or to help discover a renewable energy source. I felt this would bring my life purpose. His response was elegant, and has stayed with me since…

“The greatest contribution we as individuals can offer is the betterment of society. It does not take a revolution to do so, simply a conscious act of will, every day.”

And that is what these organizations, I am about to share, are doing. I ask you, on the eve of “random acts of kindness” day, to be mindful of your behavior tomorrow, as you should on all days. And if you do not join the campaign, at least share your stories, just as I have, or the stories you have seen. Most of these organizations web sites have storyboards to post your experiences. You have no idea how sharing your kindness can impact another person to do the same…and so on, and so on, and so on.

The World Kindness Movement. An international group will members in over 25 nations with a simple goal…bring together “like-minded kindness organizations from around the world.” Originating in Japan, the group has steadily grown “to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.”

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. A foundation focused both practicing and teaching kindness in schools, homes and communities. Their online site is a media center of lesson plans, and network to connect with people to go out and “do good.” There is also an active blogging community to share your stories.

Spread Kindness. An aspirational organization designed on the principle that kindness is contagious. Free media available with affirming quotes and “pay it forward” kindness cards as a conscious reminder we are all capable of being kind.

Kindness Revolution. Based on a corporate development book to inspire world-class customer service. Their fundamental principle is simple, if your customer care representatives are kind, customers will be treated better, which will have profound results for your company.

Random Acts. An international organization based mostly in North America, parts of Europe and Australia with an ambition to “conquer the world, one random act of kindness at a time.” They have ongoing events, fundraisers, and programs encouraging people to donate and participate to “breed kindness.”

Newtown Kindness. An organization to “promote kindness as a guiding principle of humanity.” They are “committed to fostering compassion in children and inspiring life-long contributors to society.” They distribute programs and media selections to teach and promote acts of kindness. The foundation was established in Charlotte Bacon’s honor, a child who was lost during the Shady Hook Tragedy in 2012.

Kindness Foundation. A foundation that aims to “inspire, education and connect” all people with kindness because “everyone deserves kindness; it is essential for us to thrive.” They offer media and value-based kindness education for school and work scenarios.

ARK Project Now. An engaging, online web journal of a group of young men traveling the United States to commit random acts of kindness in a “pay it forward” fashion. Their ventures are recorded via a blog, with insightful and inspiring media clips. It inspires a kindness epidemic, and a transformation within all of us.

Invisible Thread. A book that is an “inspiring true story of Laura and Maurice and how small acts of kindness can change lives.” It is based on a proverb that an “invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet.” Their online site connects people with helpful organizations for the underprivileged, and offers a medium to promote kindness.

These nine groups are only a few that are available, whose scale is larger than most. Do not limit yourself to only these should you decide to explore “organized kindness.” There are many ways to behave kindly, and I encourage you to walk your own path.

Our Eighth Ritual of Kindness

PrintHappy President’s day…on our eighth ritual of kindness we reflect on our week of togetherness and love. So, how has kindness inspired us this week? We discussed…

”Every relationship is a living thing between two people. It becomes an extension of ourselves, for it creates a new lens for us to view the world. It is also something that must be nurtured, for indeed it is alive, by the people who are in the relationship.”

We talked about relationship values, which are meant to nurture, and explored respect, growth and passion. We then discussed the importance of personal growth, and surrounding yourself with people with similar values can foster that. And…

“In these exchanges of shared interests and values, you rely on yourself for fulfillment, and you seek others to empower yourself to grow. This philosophy will help lead you to become a ‘complete’ person.”

Alternatively, if you surround yourself with people who “give” you things, be it material or emotional value, you may start to rely on others for fulfillment. When this happens in a romantic relationship you may become comfortable with a loved one who is not nurturing your true desires. I wrote…

“We have an epidemic where people fear being vulnerable. Because when we are vulnerable there is the belief we will get hurt. But we must see this is a false belief, because when we are vulnerable, we can…meaning it is a possibility…get hurt, but that is not a guarantee. Some risks are worth the opportunity for growth, and if we never take risks, we will never grow.”

I also wrote… “It is not about being half of a whole looking for that equal-opposite-other. It is not about finding a sense of ‘completion’ by being with a person. We all should be complete puzzle pieces from the beginning. A complete puzzle piece with a complete picture upon it, with a complete sense of identity that relies on values, and a complete sense of self by pursuing things that fulfill us. And the people we choose into our lives, just like puzzle pieces, should fit into us and us into them.”

Next we discussed how we treat ourselves when we must part with what is not meant for us. We do this by coping… a “conscious means to endure pain.” If we do so kindly, “there can be a grace about it.”

We also discussed guardian angels when searching for “our match.” Our guardian angel uses wise judgment to assess qualities and values of our equal-opposite other. I shared with you my list, which was: Must be kind, a good communicator, confident through intelligence, express creativity, passionately and mindful of life’s choices.

We talked about acceptance and forgiveness, and… “We must accept pain will happen, and pain is important to learn, and if we live a life fearful of pain then we will learn little. While pain is inevitable, we do not need to suffer. Suffering is when we let the pain continue to affect us after the harm is done.” With forgiveness we can end our suffering.

But forgiveness is a part of something greater, which is learning how to love yourself. We discuss seven simple wisdoms to guide that journey…

1. Know yourself.
2. Know your happy place.
3. Invest in what makes you happy.
4. Surround yourself with people who share the same values.
5. Focus not just on your mental health, but physical health.
6. Be grateful, and find pride in your accomplishments.
7. Make mistakes and forgive yourself.

To invest in yourself is not selfish, it is empowerment, “for it fosters a kindness within us that will allow us to share it with others.” And to follow this same list is how you love others, except the focus is on your loved one.

We ended this week with a ritual of love, on Valentine’s Day, by encouraging all of us to “become active participants in how you celebrate…[and]… be in the moment…and when you look him or her in the eyes, understand what you commit to your special someone when you say, ‘I love you.’”

And I will conclude our eighth ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…we must first learn to love ourselves before we can love others. It may seem like a simple thing to do, but along the way we sometimes forget how to do that, if we even ever knew how. It starts with respecting yourself as the most important thing in your life. It is also understanding you are constantly growing and adapting to changes around and within you. Sometimes growth can be painful…even scary…but the best of things usually are. Finally, and most importantly, there must be passion. Passion to chase what fulfills you, and should you be lucky to grab hold of it, never let it go.

May we all be so lucky to share our gifts of respect, growth and passion with people deserving of our love.

A Ritual of Love

PrintToday, we do something different. We postpone our eighth ritual of kindness to have a ritual of love, in celebration of Valentines Day. As with any holiday, today is one of reflection, to express appreciation for the love we have in our lives. Let’s first explore why most of the world choses to honor love today…be it a celebration of paternal, brotherhood, sisterhood or romance.

There are many exaggerated tales of Saint Valentine, believed to have lived second century Rome. Legend has it he married Roman soldiers against the edict of emperor Claudius and ministered Christianity, which conflicted with Roman theology. He was imprisoned, during which he restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter, Asterius. Emperor Claudius interrogated Valentine. Valentine attempted to convert the Emperor. In response he was beheaded. It is believed this happened on February 14th, 269. Before he was executed he wrote Asterius a farewell letter, and signed it “Your Valentine.”

Numerous traditions coincide with mid-February that encourages fertility and rebirth, but it was not until the Middle Ages this date was associated with “romantic love.” This was the time of “courtly love,” inspired by the chivalric code. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet, solidified these two concepts in his epic, “The Parliament of Fowls.” During eighteenth century England this tradition evolved into a day of celebration between lovers. It slowly grew to inspire the rest of the world.

True, there is plenty of cynicism on this holiday. You cannot validate an argument by disproving its negative, however, in this case, I believe there is a poetic justice by disproving how this is only a materialistic holiday.

An argument in favor of materialism is how the average American spending on this day has steadily increased double-digit percentages year over year. But we must remember we do not pay for company…and also must reinforce this is not the same as paid services…such as a guest speaker. The purchase of a plane ticket or a meal or a material item is the price of admission…it sets the backdrop of how you chose to spend your time with your special someone. It is how you behave and what you expect in that moment that determines its value…not how much money you spent.

Nor is it about giving time and money to “get something” out of your moment. It is about giving yourself to your person because of how you feel. It is not uncommon to believe that one such “something” is sex. This belief is like worshiping a false god, where we deprive our best values, and glorify what is without meaning. We will explore sex in a later entry, but for now I want challenge that sex in its purest form is the highest value of exchange between two people…people physically and emotionally giving themselves to each other.

We can express our love in an infinitesimal number of ways. Weeks ago I wrote, “I believe one of the most phenomenal abilities a person can have is to create something from nothing…To have the ability to take [a] precious moment…and mold it into something we can cherish in our minds for as long as our memory serves us, is perhaps the most powerful gift of all.” This day is about being in the moment with your partner, and finding the means to express your true feelings towards him or her. It is a day to appreciate the passion’s flame you have with your partner, and to renew your vow to never take it for granted. How you choose to do that is up to you. But remember, we all came from nothing, and we are oh so capable of making something out of it.

And I will conclude our ritual of love with closing thoughts…be active participants in how you celebrate this day. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, nor does it matter if you wear the masks of traditional gender roles and expect to sweep her off her feet or to be swept by him. Be in the moment today, as you should in all days, and when you look him or her in the eyes, understand what you commit to when you say, “I love you.”

May we all reflect on how dear this is so every exchange with our loved ones becomes a ritual of love.

Love Yourself and Others

PrintHow do you love yourself? How do you find fulfillment? How do you find a life of peace and happiness? Are these the secrets to a meaningful life?

Sounds like questions you’ll have to climb grand mountains to find a guru to answer. Fortunately you don’t have to. The big secret is there is no secret…only a way of being…a mindset, and a perspective for you to view the world through a new lens. All of these things are within you…you only have to acknowledge the person you already are. Loving yourself allows you to be the best version of yourself. There is no “secret” to the following…only a decision to walk the path meant for you.

1. Know yourself. Every day we experience jubilant peaks and stressful valleys. These experiences may make us doubt ourselves. Should we have an understanding of how we behave, we can acknowledge our responses and bring about the most positive outcome. This is the power to knowing ourselves…by enabling the best possible future. There is a simple yet peaceful authenticity with this knowledge, and acting consistently.

2. Know your happy place. This is more than the day-to-day decisions of where to go or with whom to spend your time. It sets you on the path of your desires. If you know yourself you will know what makes you happy…or at least you will understand what makes you happy. Awareness is a powerful tool.

3. Invest in what makes you happy. Now that you know what fulfills you…double down. Become intelligent in what bring you happiness, or become capable to build the tools to construct the mechanisms that will bring you happiness. In this “pursuit of happiness” there a constant movement of your soul on the hunt for what you are meant to do…and you will see that this “investment” in your “happiness” will be come your life’s journey.

4. Surround yourself with people who share the same values. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do…but whom you spend your time with. Having people in your life who you care about…to share experiences, and to foster the values you believe, will encourage a stronger better you. And do not compare yourself to anyone but who you were yesterday. It is too easy to get caught up with much money someone else makes, or what they have or whom they spend their time with. You are on different paths, and as long as the path you are on makes you happy, it will not matter.

5. Focus not just on your mental health, but physical health. Life is not a sprint, and with all our epistemological, noble questioning we must not forget we are frail beings destined to break. We must maintain our bodies as well as our minds and souls so we can enjoy each day with the highest quality of life.

6. Be grateful, and find pride in your accomplishments. Ask yourself, “how did I get so lucky?” or “what is something I am excited about?” or “what are the best things that happened to me recently?” These affirming questions will reinforce your gratitude for your life and the people and things in it. But don’t forget to ask, “How can I make a better tomorrow?” Don’t be afraid to push to new horizons. And mostly, do not forget to slow down and reward yourself. You will be at your best when you focus on one thing at a time…and celebrate your accomplishments. This is your best life, after all.

7. Make mistakes and forgive yourself. We must accept pain is inevitable, and there is a time for sorrow just as there is a time for happiness…but we don’t need to live a life with suffering. We can do this by forgiving ourselves for the pain we experience, and to have the grace of letting go of the things not meant for us. The better we know ourselves, no matter how painful it may be, we will have the strength to do so.

Remember the greatest value in your life is yourself, and you are the most important person in your life. Rationally, if there were no you, you wouldn’t have a life at all. It is important to value others, as a reflection of your purpose and fulfillment, but you must respect yourself first before you can respect others…and love yourself first too.

But if we focus on all these things, won’t we be selfish?

No. It is empowerment, for it fosters a kindness to be shared with others. The difference between selfishness and empowerment is realizing you are not the only person who matters. We cannot live with blinders as we chase our dreams. We are not bulldozers with one focus…the finish line…as we trample over everyone. We are people, a part of one community…one culture…one family, and we must respect all values we share.

So…how do you love others? We already discussed how. The same investment you put into yourself, you should put into the people you care most about. You should ask, “How can I give happiness to others as I have to myself?”

And for that special someone…acknowledge you both are on a journey together, as two souls. His or her values and interests, although in most cases are similar, will differ from yours. Be aware of those differences, and celebrate them. If nothing else, it is exactly that…to love deeply is to never take that love for granted, and to celebrate it, every day.

Forgiveness

PrintYesterday we discussed “the list” …our guardian angel seeking qualities in an equal-opposite-other. Just as we are looking for a partner to compliment us, we should be in constant search of the best version of ourselves. So…where do we start? We must begin with valuing ourselves for who we are.

But first, there is acceptance.

We must accept pain will happen. We must accept some can be avoided, and some cannot. We must accept we will not be perfect, and people will not be perfect either. And when two non-perfect beings interact, there will be at times conflict, and pain may result. If we rationally agree to this, we should face pain with temperament, not anxiety or anger. Think about the last time someone caused you pain? Perhaps he did it in ignorance and without knowing. Perhaps he did so with indifference, and didn’t care his actions caused you pain. Or perhaps he intended to hurt you. How do you respond to the ignorant, indifferent or purposeful harmer?

To be clear, if you are in danger, you must respond with necessary force to protect yourself and others. We are discussing non-physical pain, based on how you may be treated with disrespect. For now, we must accept pain will happen, and pain is important to learn. If we live a life fearful of pain we will learn little. While pain is inevitable, we do not need to suffer. Suffering is when we let the pain continue to affect us after the harm is done. This is easier said than done, and no one can judge the measure of another’s pain without experiencing his or her hardships.

Let’s save us from suffering.

When a victim of cruelty forgives, there is a change in mindset about the act and the person who caused it. For this discussion let’s assume a cruel act is something that invokes inherit negativity, inwardly or outwardly, to bring about emotions such as self-pity or vengeance. These emotions attempt to “tip the scale” of the negativity brought to your doorstep, and cast it to another, typically the assailant. When we invoke self-pity, we harbor negativity. When we become vengeance, we breed more cruelty. Forgiveness is not excusing, condoning or forgetting the cruel act, as this allows negativity to live on. When we forgive, the cruelty of the act ends with you.

Isn’t it odd, how easy it is to hold onto hurtful memories? Perhaps it was a tragic accident that shook the fiber of your being, or a toxic relationship that wrongly abused you…for years after the pain has stopped, we still hold onto what caused us hurt, and we suffer. Rationally we know if something is heavy and if we have no use for it, we should let it go. This makes us weak, for we will never be as strong as we could be with such a weight. Yet somehow we forget how to drop a burden.

Why can’t we sometimes let go?

Is forgiveness another means of coping? No. Coping mutes the pain. Forgiveness washes it away. Remember for whom we are forgiving. Do we forgive for the person who caused the cruel act? Possibly…but we should forgive for ourselves. It allows us to drop the burden that weighs us. It allows us to acknowledge the pain, take accountability, make amends, and to treat ourselves more kindly.

Sometimes the people who are hardest to forgive are ourselves…we trick ourselves into believing we cause our pain by the choices we make. That we stayed in that toxic relationship too long, or stayed out too late with friends and were made vulnerable to a tragedy…but no one can tell the future. All we can do is make the best decisions in the moment. If your heart tells you to stay, and your brain tells you there is no danger, it is better to listen than to shut out all feelings. And if you do experience pain, once you process those feelings, it is important to forgive yourself. It is better to have experienced it and grow than to not have at all.

So, how do we become the best versions of ourselves? We must love ourselves, first. The best way to do that is to forgive ourselves for the pain we let happen to us. But this is only the first step. For the rest, we explore tomorrow.