Choosing Kindness

james-franko

My children, in an out of state college, left me with a lot of empty time on my hands. Time to do those things I had always wanted to do, time to contemplate, time to look back as well as forward.

I decided I would greet this new place by doing those things I’ve always wanted to do.  Among other things, I would find that enigmatic thing called “kindness.”

“What?” you may be saying.  “Of all things you could choose to do, why are you choosing such a quiet, uneventful thing?  It’s not exciting, it’s not physical, and you won’t come home after a month of being out on the road of kindness with pictures and fantastic memories or stories. ”  So why did I choose it?

I chose it because I finally had the energy, desire, time, wisdom and ability (maturity) to contemplate my own growth.  I was not going to waste it.  So that’s all true but there’s more.

Did I mention how many relationships I have pushed away because of my unkindness?  My first experience, I recall, was in kindergarten.  I remember being bossy and pushy, telling everybody what to do.  Pretty soon I found myself standing alone.  No one would play with me.  It continued on in that manner.  Words would come out of my mouth and suddenly, I’m standing alone.

I never understood why either.  I knew I always meant well.  I knew I had a kind heart and sincerely cared about others.  So why were my words always being misunderstood as harsh?  Why was my honesty and bluntness unkind?  Didn’t they know I was only saying those things to help them?  Mentally, did you just say, “Ohhhh, I see” ?

So now, do you understand why its so important?  I was tired of being that person no one ever accused of being, ‘kind’.   It was time for a change.  This was my opportunity to finally own what I was doing to myself and others and then figure out how to change it.  After all, as my friend Mary says, “All life is about relationships.”

It’s true.  I know this small word is so powerful that it affects and reflects upon every aspect of our relationships, be it a simple passerby to a more deeply held relationship such as family and other loved ones.  Try to name one thing you have accomplished without interacting with anyone else, without relying on someone else, even if only slightly.

As well,  what experiences stand out to you the most?  I’ll bet you’ll say, when those  you interacted with were exceptionally kind or when they were exceptionally unkind.

I have to admit, the thought of making a drastic change within myself was kind of scary.  Although maybe not as big as jumping from a plane would be….maybe.  I mean I was letting go of a part of me.  Would I get lost?

I think the hardest part was simply figuring out how to start.  Because how does one grasp onto that kindness within themselves, magnify it and then radiate it outwards?  How is it that some people are more prone to be described as kind then others.  What is it specifically that makes a person kind? I think everyone has their own definitions.  I came up with mine after intently observing my co-workers.

What I saw was that  kind people don’t go spewing their negative, gossipy, uninvited opinions all over.  In fact, I noticed that rarely did they say anything negative about anything.  So I kind of knew that all along, yet, in the past was never willing to admit it because frankly, that was going to take an awful lot of self-discipline.    But now, I was sure the work would be worth it.

ok, so the goal would be to not say unkind things about others.  you know, follow “The Golden Rule” – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  No gossiping and the super hard one, to see and express things with a positive perspective.

Was it easy?  NO! I mean how do you just stop being this person you’ve always been and suddenly become a different/better version?  How do you suddenly rid yourself of that snarky running monologue in your head that’s been there as long as you can remember?  How do you stop perceiving things around you as only you do?

There were so many times, especially at the beginning, when the pull to say something negative about a co-worker or a customer who was exceptionally obnoxious, arrogant, even smelly was so powerful, I was sure I would literally explode.  At other times, I had to actually run away from groups of friendly co-workers in the  middle of dissecting another co-worker behind their back.

It didn’t take long to realize even though I wasn’t verbalizing the snarkiness, I was still thinking it.  So there really wasn’t much change because, ‘we act upon what we think.’  Meaning, my negative thoughts caused me to perceive the situation in a negative way, which in turn showed through my face, my body language and projected outwards.  It wasn’t too hard to interpret by the person looking back at me what I was thinking.

I realized the trick to this change was not just merely holding my judgmental, critical comments in, rather I had to actually change my thoughts.  To do that, the golden rule needed to be tweeked.  I was going to have to add the word, “think” to the phrase, i.e. :  if you can’t say or think anything nice, don’t say or think anything at all.

I had two different methods to do this, depending upon the situation.  The first, was to distract myself whenever a negative thought popped in.  A phrase I remember from a movie I had seen kept coming back to me.  The movie was, Point Of No Return.point of no return

Bridgett Fonda is an angry, murderous criminal because she reacts to upsetting situations with her fists.  Anne Bancroft, who like a brilliant diamond, is perfectly polished, although just as hard.  She is Bridgett’s …etiquette coach.  Anne is trying to teach Bridgett to respond to an upsetting situations with poised control.  She demonstrates by forming a fake smile and saying, “I never did mind about the little things.”  (You have to say that with your head tilted and your hand lifted gently and twirling ever so casually.)

When the temptation to be my old self reared up, when I had found fault in a co-worker, a customer etc., I would say that to myself.  And yes, in my head my hand was casually twirling around.  For example, if one of my co-workers had come in with an extremely ugly tie, the thought would light upon me, “That is the ugliest tie I have ever seen.”  If I didn’t squelch that thought quickly, I stress ‘quickly’ because the longer I let it stay, the harder it was to get rid of and the more it built upon itself.  For example: “What was he thinking? Man, that guy has the worst taste.  Seriously, what was his wife thinking by letting him go out with that tie?  Well, she let him, she must have just as bad taste as he does…”  and so on.  Next I would go find a friendly co-worker, “Hey did you see so and so’s tie? What is with that ugly tie?”  And then we would laugh about it for a minute or two.

The problem is what’s coming next; the co-worker from around the corner.  He hears it and now guess who  is the schmuck, has created an awkward situation, offended and, once again, cooled off a potential great friendship?

So instead of going through all that, in my head, I would put on that menacing forced smile and say, “I never did mind about the little things.”  It instantly put things into perspective, meaning:  his ugly tie wasn’t really that big of a deal and certainly didn’t affect me in anyway.  So why was I so concerted about it?

At first, I had to say that ‘a lot”.  In fact, at times repetitively.  Sometimes I could move on from there.  But if I couldn’t let it go, then I would go into my second chosen method – to focus on something else.  I think this second step is important because you can’t just stop thinking of something, you have to replace the thought with something else.  Try it.  Have you ever tried to just stop thinking about something without first replacing the thought?  It’s tough.

I took care of this by choosing to think of something positive about the guy with the ugly tie.  I chose to focus on my co-worker’s positive attributes, such as how kind, funny or successful he was with customers, or how great his sense of self must be to have the confidence to wear an ugly tie and not care what others thought.  Thinking of those things made the ugly tie insignificant and again, because we act upon our thoughts, it caused me to appreciate the co-worker even more.

In this scenario, had my co-worker stepped out from around the corner while my friend and I were talking, he would have heard me talking about what a great person he was instead of his ugly tie.  So much better, don’t you think?  I mean, who doesn’t like to be around people that appreciate you?

I don’t remember how long it took to make the change a habit.  Because I was always mindful of the goal, I didn’t really recognize it had become a part of me until many, many months later.  Even now, I remember that moment.  I remember standing by myself at work, waiting for a customer when the thought suddenly came to me that I felt different.  ( Side note: it didn’t matter that it was almost a year because this was a ‘rest of your life’ change not a ‘losing 10 pounds’ or ‘until the change occurs,’ change. )

I realized my head was calmer.  I was calmer.  I wasn’t expending all that energy thinking about what everyone else was doing,  if they were doing things right, etc.  Instead, I felt free, light…happy.  I had energy to focus on me and my own goals and accomplishments.  I was smiling more and laughing more, which in turn, made those around me smile more and laugh more.

My fears of losing a part of me, I discovered , were all in vain.  That snarky running monologue was gone, but I didn’t disappear into oblivion.  In fact, I didn’t lose myself at all.  I just…tweeked myself.  I really liked it.  I liked me.

Although my desire was seemingly small and insignificant: huge were the consequences.  For example, I had permanently altered how I looked at things around me.  I realized when I made the habit of finding what was good about people, I began to do the same to myself.  When I stopped judging and critiquing others, I stopped judging and critiquing me.  I began to feel more confident in myself.  I began caring less and less about what others thought of me.  Instead, I began focusing on what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t do.  What I had to offer instead of what I lacked.

It was a while after that on a very slow day at work, that a very good friend off-handedly said to me, “I probably shouldn’t say this because I know you don’t talk  about other people, but…”.  OK, did you just hear my squeal of excitement?  It was a casual, simple comment, but it meant the world to me.  In my head, I cheered.   After all, I had worked hard to hear that!

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