Be Kind. Rewind. Repeat.
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
Last week I learned about a postcard protest happening in March. The protest details included an invitation to send ill-wishes to the president in bulk, which stunned me. It sunk my heart to imagine contributing more hatefulness and negativity to the world. I questioned how sending ill-wishes helps cultivate positive change. And I wondered, what might happen if we put our collective energy into sending postcards of compassion and kindness instead of messages of contempt. Then, on my walk this morning I came across this message in vibrant chalk: Be Kind. Rewind. Repeat. It seemed like a simple invitation and yet, experience tells me it isn't.
As I walked back home, I reflected on my years as a public school teacher. As a community of diverse learners, we spent the beginning of each year discussing what we needed in order to do our best learning. Together, we outlined a set of agreements to support those needs. We spent the greater part of the year referencing and reflecting on those agreements, checking in often to see how we were doing. What I found most fascinating was how the agreements were always the same. Regardless of who was in the classroom in a given year, we all had the same basic needs. We all wanted to feel emotionally and physically safe. We all wanted to feel respected and accepted. We all wanted to feel cared for and understood. In my 15 years of teaching, the agreements always came down to variations of Be Kind. Kindness encapsulated all the other needs. Kindness insured safety, respect, acceptance, generosity, caring, and compassion.
The agreement to Be Kind seemed simple but it wasn't. We spent the entire year unpacking what it meant to be kind and often the learning came out of examples that weren't kind. Kindness took daily practice. It required us to restrain our impulses and stretch our capacity for acceptance and understanding. Kindness required courage to be authentic and honest in our interactions. It required that we look for the good in others and ourselves and to be generous with positive actions and words. In the cauldron of learning, kindness was the foundation for all other learning.
In the past few weeks, my thoughts have returned to the role of kindness. I see where it is absent— where anger dislodges connection, where defensiveness outshines compassion, where sarcasm displaces honest communication, where resistance blocks awareness and understanding. I also see where kindness is thriving. I see it's depth in the generosity of strangers coming together at Standing Rock and in peaceful protests across the globe. I see it in the flood of donations flowing into organizations advocating for basic human rights. I see it in the courage to have difficult conversations with a desire to understand another perspective. I see it in small intentional acts— smiling at a passing stranger, holding the door for someone, helping to collect a jumble of oranges in the market, pausing to let cars into the line of traffic, offering to babysit for an exhausted new mother, mailing a handwritten note. And I see kindness thriving in individuals who are generous with themselves— understanding that kindness and compassion grow radically from the inside out.
In her exquisite poem, Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye wrote,
Before you know what kindness really isyou must lose things,feel the future dissolve in a momentlike salt in a weakened broth.What you held in your hand,what you counted and carefully saved,all this must go so you knowhow desolate the landscape can bebetween the regions of kindness.How you ride and ridethinking the bus will never stop,the passengers eating maize and chickenwill stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,you must travel where the Indian in a white poncholies dead by the side of the road.You must see how this could be you,how he too was someonewho journeyed through the night with plansand the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.You must wake up with sorrow.You must speak to it till your voicecatches the thread of all sorrowsand you see the size of the cloth.Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,only kindness that ties your shoesand sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,only kindness that raises its headfrom the crowd of the world to sayIt is I you have been looking for,and then goes with you everywherelike a shadow or a friend.
It is my deepest desire to be a catalyst for kindness— to help cultivate compassion, hope and generosity in a landscape of despair. I wish to weave a cloth of kindness that surpasses the size of sorrow in its capacity to comfort and heal. I wish to send messages of loving kindness into the crowd of the world until it is the only thing that makes sense. Whether these messages are written, spoken or quiet gestures, loving-kindness is where I wish to begin again and again. I accept the invitation from the chalk message on the sidewalk. I wish to practice: Be Kind. Rewind. Repeat.
I appreciate the offerings of wise and generous teachers. Here are a few for cultivating Loving Kindness and Gratitude:
- Pema Chodron and Maitri
- Tara Brach
Audio Practice - Erin Geesaman Rabke
- Sesame Street