Monthly Archives: September 2011

In Response to Kindness

I want to thank everyone who commented on my first blog posting on Kindness.  I do read the comments and you’ve each made valuable points.

I don’t think that Kindness and Compassion are interchangeable.   I think they refer to different states of being.  I do think they are very easily confused both in intention and in action.  Not that anybody suggested they were the same, but I’d like to make a distinction.  I’m just not sure I’m clear enough to draw that line myself.

I’m not sure that Kindness implies Helpfulness either.  Although being helpful is certainly kind.  I think that Kindness can also be Not being helpful, removing yourself from the situation.  I think sometimes Kindness can be still, and open and welcoming without taking action at all.

I do think intent matters.  But I know that all the best intention of kindness can lead to some ultimately nasty behaviors regarding other people.  Very often I’ve seen kind intent used as an excuse to make judgements upon or decisions for other people.  Taking away someone’s autonomy isn’t kind no matter how thoughtful the intention.

For instance, is it kinder to tell someone a piece of information that is difficult, or is it more kind not to tell them?  For me this depends not only upon the intention, but on the information.  Is it a fact or an opinion?  Is it something you know or something you’ve heard?  Is it something they can do something about (like the toilet paper?)  Or is it something that can’t be fixed (like the ink stain on the back of their skirt.)

The easy example here is with medical information, both with informed choice and with HIPAA.  Do you tell someone ALL the likely side effects when many of them are temporary, not life threatening, and scary enough (but not as bad as they sound) that the person might not get the treatment they need?  Do you believe the patient can determine, “it’s okay if my friend stays I can tell them anything,” when the patient probably can’t anticipate what you have to tell them?

I have been in situations where I literally did not trust a family member’s definition of kindness.  I was pretty sure that this particular person would decide that I needed sleep more than I needed to know, in the moment, if something dramatic was happening with my infant son.  Whatever happened it could wait until morning.  I had seen this type of kindness demonstrated in other settings with other family members and did not want it applied to me.

My daughter spent 10 days in England this summer.  She said when she left, if her brother ended up in the hospital, please don’t call her.  She knew there would be nothing she could do and she couldn’t handle that kind of stress.  Smart girl.  Not only was she self aware, but she was being kind to herself in letting me know how to be kind to her.

I’m pretty sure if I can beat myself up I can also choose to be kind to myself.  I don’t think kindness is limited to either intent or action.  Sometimes I think acts of kindness can be unintentional, especially when they happen to meet just the right need at just the right time.  That sort of “mind reading”  all the kind intent in the world can not achieve.

 So some days the brownie is kind, and some days it’s not.  It was never really about the brownie.



We are approaching the time of the autumnal equinox, a point of balance between the light and dark.  The story of the grasshopper and the ant is set at this time of year.  It is also the time of sorting the wheat from the chaff.  So the point of balance also becomes a point of choosing.

When we think of balance , it’s comforting to think about stability.  The balanced rock  has been there for hundreds of years.  Balance in design is demonstrated by the stability of a house of cards.  Even in the face of change, balance is demonstrated by the buildings that still stay standing through the earthquake or hurricane winds.

Trying to balance a life feels a little more like juggling fire on a high wire.  We are in motion, buffeted about by forces we can’t control or predict, and trying to keep several balls in the air at once.   Living the still life of a meditative monk is not the goal most of us shoot for when we seek balance in our lives.

Often the balance in life also comes down to the point of choosing.  Which ball do you choose to drop to maintain your balance?  Do you stay on the wire or take a different path?  Does moving faster make it easier to keep going?  Are you the grasshopper this year or the ant?

Although no one in my household is currently tied to the school year calendar, I have definitely been enculturated. This is where the fun choices come in.  I have a tendency to set up new projects to start at this time of year.  This year I’ve even been inspired to take an adult education class.  I’m also preparing a presentation at the Women and Spirituality Conference.  I even got some business cards printed.

Starting new things and getting summer things put away in anticipation of winter challenges my balance.  I have found myself less and less able to do the heavy lifting that goes with summer clean up.  I have had to learn to let go when I don’t have the space or strength to get all the yard furniture put away in the garage before the snow.  The plants haven’t been well weeded and aren’t getting covered when there are frost warnings.  My priority is making enough room in the garage for the car.

This year, a big part of maintaining balance for me has been about learning to give myself credit for the things I do manage to accomplish.  It’s easy for me to become overwhelmed with everything I don’t get done.  Especially when I “should” myself about them.  I come into better balance when I acknowledge the accomplishments with at least as much enthusiasm as I morn the shortcomings.

I’m big on efficiency.  I like to find ways to do as much as I can with as little effort as possible.  It’s another thing I like about balance.  It’s precarious.  It only takes a little push to send everything moving in a new direction.  When the timing and direction are right,  great changes can happen with the touch of a suggestion.

So here I stand at the equinox balanced on one foot.  Where do I put the next step down?  Anything becomes possible.

More Heros

So I’ve been thinking more on heros. Since I ended the last post with a charge to consider the heros we choose, I’ve been thinking about mine.

I find heros fit into two categories:  rescuers and inspirational.  If I look into classic heroic figures they tend to have those characteristics as well.  It’s sort of the Superman vs Spiderman conundrum.

Following the 9/11 memorial presentations I am struck by how well we, as a culture, treat our inspirational heros.  We appreciate being helped though inspiration.  Maybe it’s the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that is so much a part of our culture.

I can’t object too much, since I aspire to be an inspirational hero.  I do, however, question what inspires people and how we are inspired.  Is it really the bells and whistles, bands and flags and parades that make us want to be more?  Do we just need a little cheer squad behind us?  Or does inspiration come from seeing someone accomplish something and knowing that since it’s been done it must be possible?

Rescuers, on the other hand, have gotten a bad rap.  Again looking at the history of 9/11 I can’t help but think of how those heros have been treated.  How many firefighters and first responders are suffering from the dust in their lungs?  How many families waited years for insurance compensation?  We honor those who died, but less so those who acted.

I remember when rescuing meant that you were saved from a situation you couldn’t have gotten out of on your own.  It didn’t used to imply pandering or moly-coddling.  Of course co-dependance used to mean that you could depend on each other for mutual support, not that you’d dig a hole to wallow in together.

It is harder to be a rescuer.  You have to jump into a situation and you may or may not be welcome.  Not everyone wanted to be removed during Katrina.  The trick is being available to lend appropriate and necessary support.  It takes a mindreader.

Inspiration is much easier.  You just put it out there and someone may come along and take it.  You may not even be aware of how inspirational you’ve been to someone along the way.  Unless you’re trying to be an inspirational rescuer, offering some piece of wisdom (welcome or not) to someone you perceive needs help.  Then you’re back in that tricky, mind-reading mess.

I’ve had opportunities in my life to be both rescued and inspired.  I’ve had friends step in to lend a hand physically.  I’ve had accommodations made for accessibility.  I’ve had financial support.  I’ve also been inspired to write, to speak out and to try to lead by example.

In a tidy world it would be easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.  There would be guidelines and we would all have the opportunity to know we had been heros to our fellow humans.  We would recognize and receive recognition any time we put ourselves out on behalf of someone else.

Since we don’t live in such a tidy place, maybe it counts more when we do take the time to recognize and acknowledge the heros in our lives.  So thank you, to all my friends.  Because each of you in your own way serves as an inspiration to me.

Thank you to all of you who’ve covered a ticket, a meal, or even the tip.  Thank you to anyone who’s ever done dishes for me or cleaned the bathroom, or cleaned anything else.  Thank you  for hauling and carrying anything from a cup of coffee to picking me up.  Thank you for your good conversation and interesting perspectives.  Thank you for cheering me on when I wasn’t sure I could believe in myself.  Thank you for giving me a break.


I’ve chosen to spend much of this Labor Day weekend catching up on my reading.  I’ve finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire.  They are well written, and more than a little disturbing.  I’m glad I didn’t see the movie.

There are three of these novels.   The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest is the last as the author, Stieg Larsson,  has died.  They are detective novels in style but thematically they address very directly the issues of sexual and physical abuse of women in Sweden.  (And by inference, women everywhere.)

I don’t watch horror movies, movies about serial killers or psychological thrillers.   I don’t need my head filled with those kinds of images.  I don’t need the graphic details to be aware that there are terrible things that go on in the world.  I certainly don’t need them sensationalized.

The question isn’t why does God let these horrible things happen.  The real question is why do we?

Most of my friends are activists in one form or another.  They give their time and resources to support programs that help people.   Some of them work for civil rights for people that are not treated equally, or even acknowledged under the law.  Some of them work for labor rights so that people don’t have to kill themselves to feed their families.  Some of them work with women who have been abused or who don’t have the resources to help themselves.  Some are political and some reach out to those in their community, however they may define that term.

It’s hard to see change when there is so much to be done.  It’s hard when there is no money to support the work of helping others.  It’s hard to keep going when the work you’re doing is not appreciated by a large portion of the population.  It’s hard to help someone else when you are struggling yourself.

Do people really need it laid out for them in living color to believe that the world is not nice to everyone?  Is it at all helpful to believe that people who are not as well off somehow did that to themselves?  Does dramatizing horror help, or does it make it easier for people to say “but that’s a movie, things are not really that bad.”  Are we so overwhelmed by the problems we see that we close our eyes and walk away?

The biggest blind spot may be how we fail to recognize our own contributions to the problems of the world.  I have friends who wouldn’t dream of committing violent acts who I’ve seen bulling someone verbally.  “No I wasn’t doing that,” they say, “I was just trying to make a point.”  Given my upbringing I suspect I’ve also been a verbal bully, unaware and unintended.

There is a Buddhist philosophy that practices peace.  The idea is that bringing peace to one’s own heart brings peace to the planet.  The more peace and compassion we bring to the planet, the more peaceful and compassionate the planet becomes.  This is not an easy practice, bringing peace and compassion into your heart and life every day.  But it has the advantage of being within reach of every person on the planet, regardless of their circumstances.

Violence is thought to be rooted in lack.  Perceived or real, this “have not” underpinning can produce an attitude of self righteousness that justifies all kinds of horrible behavior.  We all find it easier to blame others for our failings, and that tendency produces a target to victimize.  It’s where that twisted “your worthless and it’s all your fault” comes from.  A peaceful heart addresses all of this.

Logically both statements, worthless and at fault, can’t hold true at the same time.  But I would bet anyone reading this at some point in their lives has felt both things to be true of themselves.  I can’t do anything right and it’s all my fault are global statements and hugely damaging to ourselves, and by association to the world.

The girl in the books, the one with the dragon tattoo, never takes on guilt for what has happened to her.  She places blame directly where it belongs, on her abusers.  She is highly ethical and entirely outside of societies standards for social behavior.  When she deals with people who have wronged her (or other women) she deals with them directly and often gives them the opportunity to correct their behavior.  She’s the scary one in the books.

She lives in a black and white world.  She turns her back on anyone who wrongs her in the slightest, regardless of their intention.  She is a bully in her own right, as she enforces her punishments on her abusers.  There is no room for error in her judgements.  And we (the readers) cheer her on because she has an impact that is beyond our capacity.  She achieves justice with people who are otherwise untouchable by any system.

If everyone in the world had a compassionate intolerance for violence in any form, would violent people still be untouchable?  Is it conceivable that with peace in the heart and strength in the body genuine help could be offered for the “have not?”  Is contentment what is necessary in order to  prevent others from exploiting the remaining resources?

I think it comes down to how we choose our heros.  Do we appoint people to serve “beyond the law” and dole out justice like the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo?  Do we look to Jesus or the Dali Lama to inspire us to join together in compassion, expecting better of ourselves and our society?  Do we want Superman, or the Aliens or God to swoop in and save us all from ourselves?

Think about who you see as the heros in your life, and why.  In the meantime I’ll get back to my work.  Trying to be a hero to in my own life, just to myself.


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