Kindness is much more controversial than it gets credit for.
It’s been perceived as this benign act that we should do every so often on one of those international something-or-other days.
Yep, it’s right up there with International Sea Monkey Day.
Poor kindness; it really needs better P.R.
Because of this, I want to invite you to join me for a moment at the Greyhound station in Buffalo, New York on May 12, 2017 …
“Excuse me, do you think you can give me some money for breakfast? I haven’t eaten yet today and I am mighty hungry.”
Her clothes were grimy, her nails caked with dirt and her hair was matted to her head.
She crushed a little stuffed toy against her as she asked me for money. My head was down and I was trying to quickly type out some emails as I waited for my gate to be called.
I was also exhausted.
I had already been awake for 28 hours, traveled by bus across Dominican Republic, planes over the Atlantic, sat on cold concrete floors in JFK waiting for the transfer desk to reopen at 3:00 am, and had flown into Buffalo and taken a metro bus to the downtown station to get to Toronto.
I was not at my best.
However, when I looked at her and took in what was in front of me, I knew already what my answer would be.
As I turned to get a few dollars out of my purse to give to her, she continued to talk. “I don’t have anything in my house to eat. I have a fridge, you know, but all I had in there were cookies – and I have blood sugar issues, so I don’t know if you know this, but that’s not a good thing for people like me.”
“I think that it’s wise then that you are going to get a breakfast sandwich here,” I smiled and told her as I handed her some money.
I went back to my laptop as she walked up to the lineup and ordered a sandwich.
A few minutes later she was sitting beside me at the next table. She pulled out her stuffed toy and propped it up to talk to it while she started to eat her sandwich, bit by bit.
With each piece she broke off, she put it up to the mouth of her doll, encouraging it to eat. She chatted away at the doll and told it that they were going to see a friend after they were done eating.
She looked over and smiled at me. “Thanks for helping us,” she said, clearly happy again.
She was about 50 years old.
As I watched her eating and talking to her doll, my heart squeezed with what I saw. She was retreating back into a place that was her safe place and I just left her alone.
As I walked away I was struck by how sweet she was.
The truth is, she gave me a chance to be a part of her world – and that’s a privilege in many ways.
Did I have an obligation to help her?
No, actually, I don’t think I did. I could easily have denied her request.
I helped her for myself.
Allow me to explain…
I am not out looking for ways to do kind things. I am living my life with the intention to grow more into who I know I am capable of becoming during my days on earth.
I don’t exist only within a linear time line. Who I am now isn’t separate from who I want to become.
Yet, our humanity craves rules doesn’t it? We want to continually give in to the urge to separate and compartmentalize everything and everyone:
- Good or bad
- Right or wrong
- Just or unjust
- For me or against me
- Selfish or altruistic
Because of this, there’s a temptation to think of goodness and kindness as acts we do outside of ourselves.
As if the very “act” of kindness somehow redeems us from some terrible and unacceptable state that we exist in without forcing ourselves to be kind and make good choices.
But living in that duality is depressing, don’t you think?
What if there was a different way to frame kindness?
I don’t know the stories you keep on telling yourself, but I am well aware of my own.
I am also well aware that at the core of who I am is a good person.
I’m at my best when I am kind simply for the sheer pleasure it brings me. It feels damn good to let someone else experience dignity when they are with me.
I used to see this struggle with people who joined us on humanitarian trips.
People would tell me after they had experienced something that was an “act of kindness” they felt better about themselves and they couldn’t understand how this happened. Sometimes they would tell me that they simply never felt like they were good enough to feel this good in life.
It simultaneously amused and saddened me.
Why were they surprised at the fountain of kindness inside of them that was waiting to simply be released?
And this realization, my friends, is the shocking controversy of it all: Kindness isn’t a #lifegoal.
When kindness can be downgraded to an act that we can dip into once in a while, it’s true power can be held at bay and we don’t have to face the truth that is trying to hide in the darkness:
The truth that we are worthy of owning our own goodness.
Kindness is simply one of the inseparable qualities that make up who we are. However, whether or not we choose to embrace what is already there is up to us.
Here is my confession: I live by the rule of kindness because I have learned to love myself first.
I love myself enough to want to grow and to believe that I can be that person that comes alive every time I live in alignment with the good inside of me.
Stop making excuses for why you can’t love yourself. It’s like stealing from your own bank account.
Own your goodness and live it out.
Because you’re worth it.