In every interaction we have with another human being, we have the opportunity to be kind.
It seems easy to be kind. We can smile at a stranger, open the door for someone, allow a person to go before us in line, or be helpful or generous in many small ways. When we are kind we show care and concern for another.
The ability to be kind to another seems more difficult when we aren’t getting our needs met, we don’t agree, or when we hold different beliefs. In these circumstances, how do we accept and understand instead of criticize? How do we come together instead of separate?
We all want to be acknowledged, accepted, and understood. We want to feel valued and loved. Most of us act in ways that we believe are good and right. We consider ourselves kind. Yet if we did not grow up with role models who displayed kindness, or we haven’t experienced many acts of kindness in our own lives, it can be difficult to understand what true kindness really is.
True kindness is the ability to acknowledge another’s presence as something valuable.
In the presence of another we can look into their eyes, listen without interrupting, and acknowledge what they have to say. When we do respond, we can say what we genuinely mean.
Being present, we are aware of the balance in conversation. We ask questions. We don’t talk about ourselves the whole time. We ensure that the level of sharing is balanced and mutual.
To be kind we embrace pain as easily as we embrace joy. We have to be willing to sit in the presence of another’s pain if we want to be kind. If we are a friend who only wants to show up for the good times, then we aren’t practicing true kindness in our relationships.
When practicing true kindness, we stay present to all qualities a person exhibits − whether we view them as good or bad. We practice compassionate understanding of exactly where they are, without needing them to change. We respect their boundaries and their choices, even if they are different from our own. This is true kindness in action.
An inability to remain present with another makes it very difficult to practice true kindness.
Living in modern times requires a stronger intention to act with kindness. We see it everywhere, people spending time together yet they are distracted by their phones incoming messages. It seems that our technological devices are increasing our distractedness – and lessening our capacity to be kind.
When practicing true kindness, we choose to turn off our cell phone, reduce the volume, or at least have it out of sight when we are interacting with another. If we are expecting an important call or text that we absolutely have to be available for, we let the person know in advance that we may have to briefly interrupt our time together. We want the person we are spending time with to feel valued.
Our best choice to create more kindness in our lives is to balance out our distractedness with mindfulness, the art of listening and paying attention. The more mindful we become, the more present we are to respond with true kindness.
Photograph by Annie Spratt