A Reason for Kindness

"Do you really want to see your biggest customer fail?" I asked a client recently. After all, if they lose, so do you, I reminded her. As a struggling business owner, surely she could muster a bit of compassion for another. I could understand if this was a competitor, but a significant customer? I knew we needed to explore the thoughts that prompted the harsh response. In fact, she didn't really want to see them fail, but rather felt a little better knowing others were struggling too. Alas, kindness won, and she sent a note of empathy that made them both feel better. It's never simple when we're dealing with our own feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes we just want someone else to hurt as much as we do. Sometimes our narcissistic tendencies come to the surface, not even recognizing the effect on others. For many reasons, a toxic environment can be the incubator of ugliness.

A few more random conversations this week left me pondering (yes, I do that sometimes) the absence of kindness. Of course when you open your mind to a thought, you become aware of more relative actions. I heard a tired looking young man snap at a grocery clerk. I saw a frustrated hotel clerk glare at a guest who lost her key. My ugliness antennae was up!

You know those old people who say things like "I remember when a handshake meant something?" I probably sound like that right now. ("Remember when people were nice? Me neither.") Frustration at meanness, mean people, and the inability to avoid it and them. Like a meanness vortex.

Are we less kind as a community because we're so stressed, that our behavior is uncontrollable? Why be kind when meanness is more efficient? Do we beat ourselves up because we hold our failures up against other's successes and spew ugliness? Or maybe we're just too hurried. Why waste a few seconds holding the door for the next person when you could be sitting in the car checking emails?

Here's why it's worth the time. Personal wellness comes from the ability to balance many facets of life. I'm talking about physical, professional, social, financial, and spiritual balance. If meanness is the norm, then our wellness wheel is out of alignment. Stress, nasty attitudes, and poor behavior don't spell health or wellness in any area of life. Not for us or those we impact.

True wellness moves beyond self-interest into the greater community. In other words, you can't be mean and not feel the karma kicking back at you. A smile to a tired cashier does as much to generate peace and understanding as a large donation, in that the intentions are kindness and community.

It's not difficult to make the internal adjustment, but sometimes we have to distance ourselves to get back on track. An elderly woman teetering on dementia once told me she was happy except when visitors told her she shouldn't be. She created small happiness moments by talking with her caretakers that she adored, watching Matlock reruns, or having friends bring their dogs for a visit. But occasionally I'd get a call saying she was agitated and frightened. "Is this place bad for me? Maybe I should move. I don't know who to trust anymore." Then we'd have a calming talk about outsiders dumping thoughts into our brains. "If you're happy most days, and you only think bad thoughts when bad storytellers come calling, let's limit those visits." In her final days, she was surrounded by overwhelming kindness and she left this place with a peaceful spirit.

Fast forward to my kindness antennae today. There it was, flowing right through the community when I opened my eyes! Meanness dissipated into compassion and kindness even in the busiest of settings. A helping hand from a neighbor, a hug from a friend, and I left the parking space by the door for the elderly woman pulling in behind me.

In other words, kindness cradled me because I looked for it today. Bouncing between the frowns and the struggles, it was just waiting to be noticed. Maybe I should pay a bit more attention.