The greatest gift we can give another human being is our kindness. It is a sign of concern, understanding and generosity. It is the act of putting someone else’s feelings and well-being in front of our own. Kindness is the positive force of compassion, an energy that we always have access to and can choose at any moment. When we get caught up in our own internal process, it is hard to crawl outside ourselves and be available to others. It is a perfect antidote to our present unhappiness, hardship or problem. When we give to others, we actually emit a chemical reaction within our body that makes us feel good. By helping others, we help ourselves.
I have always held the belief that the world would be a different place if we asked ourselves on a daily basis: How can I help someone today? If we conducted our lives with that thought in our consciousness, wouldn’t we create a better atmosphere among each other? If we are only out for ourselves, it creates a feeling of isolation and we become islands of our own reality. It is human nature to want to connect with each other.
Human beings are not meant to be alone; we thrive as a collective, living within communities. I’ve always liked the phrase - it takes a village. When we help and support each other, we lighten our neighbor’s load and make someone smile. It feels good to bond in this way. I like the dictionary definitions of community:
1) A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals;
2) In nature; a group of interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat;
3) In spiritual terms; brotherhood, sisterhood, fraternity, sorority, order, congregation.
When we live within this value of intentional kindness, we are effectively giving to others. There are different levels of giving and being of service:
• The first rung of the ladder is the type of giving that makes us feel good about ourselves. An example is donating money to a local charity.
• Next, is physically helping someone out. An example is serving meals at a food kitchen for the poor, or helping a friend move.
• Higher yet, is giving without recognition. These are often spontaneous acts, yet we don’t always do because of the minor disruption; opening a door for someone with full hands, shoveling snow for a neighbors before they notice, or letting a car pull out in front of you in busy traffic.
How often we do let kindness inconvenience us or interrupt our need to hurry? Helping others is an important quality for living with our fellow human beings. Sometimes we need or want the recognition because it feels good, it is this positive reinforcement that might inspire us to act this way again. There may also come a time when we do not need this kind of acknowledgement. Giving then becomes a quiet, peaceful place deep within us. We possess the knowledge that we have affected someone’s life without the need to get credit in the process. This is when kindness truly comes from our heart.
If we believe the idea that what goes around comes around, the Buddhist law of karma, we become even more responsible for our choices and our actions. We gain the knowledge that our daily conduct actually affects the way the world treats and affects us in return.
I have been most inspired by acts of kindness while traveling in Nepal. There, the people are noticeably poor and have so little in comparison to our affluent American lifestyle. Yet, they have a genuine desire to bring me into their home and serve me tea, chang and potatoes. This act of generosity has profoundly moved me. I knew that if there was anything I needed, they would have offered it to me. That desire to help others is intrinsically woven into their nature, it’s who they are.
From the first time I set foot in the Himalaya in 1986, I always found this to be true. It is perhaps the reason I became so connected to the people and have returned year after year. It also inspired me to co-found The dZi Foundation with Jim Nowak in order to give back to these people I respect and learned so much from. (www.dzifoundation.org)
Kindness is contagious! Try it out, give it away, be conscious of helping others, say thoughtful words and see what happens in your life. If you don’t notice a difference, I will eat my words and begin again.
Three related movies: Happy, I Am (Tom Shadyac) and Pay it Forward.
Book: Ramban’s Ladder, a meditation on generosity and why it is necessary to give