You know the bumper sticker “Kindness Matters?” While I appreciate the sentiment, I would always look at it and think, “do people really need to be told this?” It seems to be in the same category of obviously as getting off your cell phone while someone is waiting on you or saying please and thank you.
But maybe we all need a reminder to lean into kindness in a bigger way right now. Many of us are retreating, responding with a little more caution. Given our contentious culture it is understandable, but our kindness and compassion are what connects us to each other - in both our shared suffering and our collective optimism. When we practice kindness we both share and experience happiness. Years ago, author George Saunders shared in a convocation address one of his greatest regrets. It was around his “failures of kindness.” He identified those failures as “the moments when another human being was there, in front of me suffering, and I responded.... sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” Now seems like a good time – when people are vulnerable and may be engaging reservedly or not at all – to be more intentional about extending kindness to others. These are three cues I’m thinking about in an effort to be more deliberate in practicing kindness: • Embracing radical empathy, in which we more actively consider others’ point of view in order to connect more deeply with them. Not particularly easy right now when many people are polarized and organized around absolutes, but this trait fosters tolerance, thoughtfulness and kindness which is essential for our relationships and communities to thrive. • Making the most generous assumption about other peoples’ behavior, choices or meaning. We often make guesses about intent that aren’t at all accurate. We are better served erring on the side of optimism when we are considering motivation. • Recognizing that everyone has a story to tell and is worthy of being seen and heard. Being more curious about others, their experiences and what they may teach us, helps us to connect in more meaningful ways and see the best in each other. It can also remind us that when someone shows up in a way that isn't particularly appealing, there is likely a context we may not be aware of that would help us to be more understanding. What other ways might we practice kindness - less mildly and with without reserve?