Tag Archives: Kindness

Democracy, Kindness and the Fourth of July

Last night I attended the annual fireworks display in Sebastopol, California. We celebrate a day early in Sebastopol, but who’s counting? The event is a stereotypical example of small town America at its best.

With over 4,000 people crammed onto the high school football field, it was challenging for latecomers to find an empty spot, but everyone was accommodated in close quarters, and nobody seemed to mind.  (In this case, a latecomer is someone who—like myself—arrives several hours before the main event.)

A flag ceremony led by fife and drum preceded the singing of the national anthem, and then—fireworks! The pyrotechnics were punctuated by whistles, explosions, and the “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” of the appreciative audience. It was peaceful. It was fun. When it was over, thousands of people poured out of the stadium in orderly fashion. Some of us walked a mile or more to our cars. Despite the inevitable jostling, merging and waiting, the atmosphere was cheerful—small town living at its best. And, yet, as I sat on that football field, I was troubled. Was I the only one in the crowd ruminating on the state of the Nation? I believe my country is at a crossroads.The principles of democracy that have held our country together seem to be unraveling. I’m worried. And, so, as I left the event last night my mind was spinning. Thoughts raced through my head keeping me awake all night. Now, as I write, they are spilling onto my blog.

Deepak Chopra stated that, “Nationalism is just another form of tribalism.” Those who know  history (and it seems that not many Americans do), know that a worldwide rise in nationalism invariably leads to conflict on a global scale. “My country, right or wrong,” is not my motto.  When my country is wrong, I want to do everything in my power to make it right. Among other things, I can: vote; peacefully protest; contact my elected officials; write letters to the editor, and speak up for those who have no voice. I can be kind.

When did lashing out at people who are different from us or who disagree with us become acceptable? I recognize that lots of Americans are angry. I’m aware of many of the reasons why. To be honest, I’m angry, too. I’m angry that many of our elected officials are placing political interests and the quest for the might dollar ahead of the interests of the people who elected them. But anger doesn’t fix anything unless it is channeled into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. was angry at times, but it wasn’t his anger that brought about change. He channeled his anger into a higher purpose— “We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know that you love them.”

No matter who you voted for, you have the right to have your own beliefs and to say and think what you think. In a democracy, everyone is free to choose their own religion and practice their religion as they see fit. Every individual has the right to enjoy his or her own culture along with the members of their group, even if their group is a minority. However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for law and the rights of others.

A lecture given at Hills University for Humanistic Studies titled What Is Democracy? says it all. I urge you to follow the link to the transcript of that talk and read it. In the meantime, what can I do to channel my anger into a higher purpose? Of all the things I outlined above, I believe the last one on my list is the most important—PRACTICE KINDNESS—not just toward the people you like, but toward everyone. Forgive the person that cut you off on the highway. Practice patience. Think before you react. Refrain from gossip. Use social media to bring people together, not drive them apart. Smile. Say thank you (even if you didn’t really want it). Don’t engage in defamatory remarks against anyone.  For those of you who espouse to be good Christians, but are happy to tell me who you hate,and presumptuous enough to tell me who God hates, remember that Jesus hated no one—not the Romans who ruled his people with an iron hand, not his own people who demanded his death, nor tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.

I’m doing my best to practicing the Golden Rule. I invite you to join me. It takes practice. Some days I know I’ll do better than others.  Remember, it is not “Do unto others as they have just done unto you,” but rather, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Someone once asked the Dali Lama, “What is your religion?”

His simple reply—”Kindness.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!

 

Ten Steps To A Kinder 2017

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I have vowed to stay away from politics in my blog, but let me just say that recent events have created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety as we enter 2017.  Fear makes us forget that we are, at heart, compassionate human beings and creates an “us” versus “them” view of the world. In reality, there is only “us.”

The Dali Lama recently stated that fear makes us act as if we are drunk. We do and say things we would not normally do. However, I am seeing some hopeful signs that we are sobering up. I was particularly moved by a recent speech by Canadian Prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to the UN General Assembly. In it, he advised us to choose hope over fear, diversity over division. “Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family.”

The only thing that neutralizes fear is love. Every spiritual tradition has told us so, and I believe it. Yes, there are haters out there, but most of us want to be kind. Sometimes fear gets in the way, and we become anxious. For me, the best way to counteract anxiety is to do something nice for someone else. Give it a try. You might be surprised by the effect a simple smile or compliment has on someone else, and how good you feel afterward.

The choices I make, and the things I say and do (or don’t say and do) have an impact on my life and the lives of others, and so do yours. For myself, I’ve made a resolution to be kinder and more compassionate in 2017. I knew I needed something to keep me on track. So, after careful consideration, I came up with the following  to-do list. There’s nothing new here, just gentle reminders of things I know but sometimes forget. Maybe you forget sometimes, too. If these suggestions strike a chord, use them and share with others. Together, we can make the world a kinder, more hopeful place.

  1. Do no harm—Remember the golden rule; treat others as you would like to be treated. No exceptions, including planet earth and ALL the creatures living on it.
  2. Practice kindness—An act of kindness has the ability to shift someone’s bad day into a better one. Why not be that change? Research tells us that we become happier by making other people happier.
  3. Remember, you can’t tell a book by its cover—It’s hard to look past appearances and our own prejudices. Make the effort. The book you almost rejected just might be a real page turner. I was so intent on hanging out with the “right people” in college that I almost missed a girl who became my lifelong friend.
  4. Support organizations that do good work—You can’t support every organization. Support the ones that speak to you. The homeless? Global warming? Human Rights? No one can do it all, but everyone can do something.
  5. Be a helper, volunteer—This is a natural follow-up to number four. “One of the greatest ironies of life is this: he or she who serves almost always benefits more than he who is served.” (Gordon Hinkle) Discover five surprising benefits of volunteering.
  6. Don’t be against anything; be for something—When asked why she never participated in anti-war demonstrations, Mother Teresa replied, “I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”
  7. Always do your best—”Your best is going to change from moment to moment…it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstances, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.” (Don Miguel Ruiz)
  8. Be an active listener—Listening is different from hearing. Active listening requires that the listener keep an open mind, refrain from judgement and be attentive. The ability to listen to what another person is saying is essential to working through conflict. If I am formulating my  response before the other person has finished, I am not actively listening.
  9. Don’t make assumptions—We’ve all done it. When we wrongly assume another person’s motivation, problems ensue. Wars have been started by assumptions that were not factual. Number nine can often be avoided by following number eight—are you listening?
  10. If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all—Arguably the most famous line from Disney’s Bambi, Thumper’s mother was right. The negative things we say about others are like boomerangs bringing negativity back into our own lives. It’s my job to keep my words positive. A good rule is to ask is, “Will my words hurt someone?” Are they beneficial? Once spoken, a word can never be taken back. This refers to social media as well as the spoken word. Refraining from negative comments is one way to practice rule #2—be kind. Maybe that’s all we really need to remember.

Wishing EVERYONE a kind and happy 2017!