“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” ~Oscar Wilde
I believe in kindness.
I am not, by nature, a kind person.
But I’m trying to be.
My tongue is sharp. I’m far too often the first to come back with a sharp retort.
Sarcasm and I were old companions, until about four years ago, when I had what I thought was just a casual conversation with a friend. But the next time I saw her, there was a distance between us.
I finally had a chance to speak with her alone, and asked what was the matter.
“You always have get a shot in.”
I couldn’t even remember what we’d been talking about. Nothing important, really.
I did know I hadn’t meant to be cruel. That whatever it was I’d said, I’d only meant it as teasing, or a friendly poke. A chance to be clever, witty.
But I’ve learned that it’s better to be kind than clever.
That too often what I think is wit is closer to hurtful.
I may think we’re playing, trading silly jests, but I don’t know how the other person is feeling that day. Something that may normally ride lightly on them may strike an unknown injury, remind them of another hurt.
A game that I played for my own amusement isn’t worth the risks.
I don’t really want to be the person who always gets a shot in. The person my friends are hesitant to chat with, because they don’t know if they’re going to be next to be teased.
So I’m willing to work at nurturing kindness in my speech, and in my actions. I haven’t changed my entire life yet, but drop-by-drop, word-by-word, lots of little things add up.
Here are some of my “daily drops,” should you wish to incorporate them into your life, as well:
- Think before you speak. I’m not always good at this. But I’m getting better. Taking a sip of water, of a bite of my sandwich creates space to think about my reply, and often reshape it, soften it, or discard it all together.
- If you realize you’ve already said something harsh, or something that through your own history could be interpreted as harsh, apologize immediately. I do this because I’d rather not risk being misunderstood.
- Take care of yourself. Show yourself kindness. Make sure your own needs are met as well. I’ve found that it’s far too easy to slip into my old habits if I’m tired or hungry or stressed out and overwhelmed.
- Check to see if you’re off center in another area of your life. I may not consciously mean to be cruel, but I’ve noticed that I’m more tempted to be sharp tongued if I’m upset about something else, even if it’s completely unrelated to the person I’m speaking with now.
- Invite kindness into other areas of your life. One of my favorite questions now is “What’s the kind choice?” Most of the time the answer isn’t what I expect.
- Practice gratitude. I may not always feel like writing down three things to be grateful for, but even one object of happiness can bring me back to center, remind me that there’s really nothing to be so sharp about.
- Remember to be kind to people you may not actually like. It’s easy to make kindness to my friends a priority. But strangers or people who actively rub me the wrong way deserve gentleness as well.
- Reflect at the end of the day. I do this not to punish myself, but to look back when I’m not in the moment, see how I did, and if situations come up again, are there other choices I could make.
- Practice. None of this is easy. None of it comes naturally. But like anything else, consistent, mindful practice makes it easier, day-by-day.
There have been unexpected benefits to this practice of kindness. I can feel myself softening, becoming a gentler person. My sharp edges seem to be smoothing away.
Not all the way down. But enough that kindness doesn’t feel like a foreign language to my tongue. Someday, I might even think of it as second nature.
And when kindness comes naturally, we’re being kind to ourselves and others.
Photo by Ed Yourdon