Thursday, April 22, 2010
I am thinking about kindness as a practice - kind driving, kind shopping, kind house cleaning, kind gardening, kind work with my clients, kind relationships. Kindness isn't always what it seems; it isn't ever just playing nicey-nice and smiling and metaphorically patting everyone on the head. Sometimes it's kindest to say no. Sometimes there are complicated choices. Most of the time true kindness requires looking both closely and deeply and not stopping with the obvious. The impulse toward kindness can be - or become - reflexive and instinctive, but the practice requires thought, which is maybe the reason that "kindness" and "thoughtfulness" are often interchangeable words.
Kind driving is a great example of this. Most of the people I know would probably consider themselves to be kind drivers, and in lots of ways they are (although I know a surprising number of otherwise kind and gentle people who have an alter ego that drives their car!). Most of the people I know don't cut others off in traffic, make obscene gestures, lay on their horns, tailgate because they're in more of a hurry than the person in front of them - you know, all the obvious rude stuff. But now make it a real practice, and make the picture both wider and more detailed. Assume you are responsible for the best possible experience for EVERYONE around you on the road. You are the ambassador of vehicular kindness. So you have to consider the person behind you, the person behind them, the person behind that person, the car in front of you, the one hoping to enter traffic from a sidestreet, and it isn't simple. If you let the person on the sidestreet in, do half a dozen people behind you miss making the next traffic signal? If you are able-bodied, do you voluntarily choose the farthest away parking spots? Even if it's raining? Is your car the kindest car you can afford, one that uses as few resources as possible, and do you drive only when it's really necessary and combine errands as carefully as you would if you had to walk? Do you leave early enough for work or appointments that you don't need to hurry, and you don't need to harbor resentment and impatience and steam at the tiny old person who can barely see over the steering wheel and who is driving 20mph below the speed limit? Because the point isn't just that you refrain from tailgating or gesturing wildly to hurry them along; as a practice, the point is the effect on your own thoughts and feelings. What matters is that you use the amazing power of your conscious mind to create more kindness in yourself.
So it isn't a simple thing, but the gift of any practice is that with time and repetition and persistence, new patterns are constructed, pathways where the practice begins to flow more smoothly. And of course, when that happens, we can use our attention to notice finer and finer details, farther and farther reaching consequences, because that's the thing about a practice - it isn't ever "finished."