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Month: March 2016

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.