Kindness has been with me for most of my life, growing in my appreciation of its healthy power all that time, and especially of late. Kindness came forward with a bang when I learned that Anne Herbert, writer and peace activist from Marin County, California, had scribbled this on a paper napkin in 1982: “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” I first met this wise piece of advice very soon after it first appeared, five years before the first H.O.P.E. Group meeting. It caused a tingle then, and the tingle reappears still, given the occasion. This is one such occasion, comprised of four parts: human stories of very different situations that all came to me within 24 hours, giving me cause to get a shiver up my spine and see how powerful kindness becomes today.
The first was learning of the assassination of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig, 26 year-old US aid worker murdered by an Islamic State militant. He was known for his kindness and devotion to helping humans in Syria. The following day, the evening news contained a segment about the Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who had gone to Sierra Leone to help treat people caught by the Ebola epidemic there, became infected with Ebola, and died shorty after coming to the US for treatment. His words in an earlier TV interview came from a human whose facial expressions were those of a kind and caring Human. The third was the TV interview of Daniel Menz, a Cape Elizabeth (Maine) High School senior student, president of his class, and known for his kindness. He is kind to everyone without exception and never appears to be above any of his fellow students.
The fourth was an interview of the man who was Menz’ idol, Michael J. Chase: “The Kindness Guy”, author of “am I being kind: how asking one simple question can change your life… and your world”. He grew up experiencing abuse from his father, who had been abused, in turn, by his father. Early on, Michael saw that he needed to find a different way of living—a way of kindness. His searches and researches carried on through thick and thin, and finding kindness and its relationship to love rewarded him for his persistence. www.michaeljchase.com
In addition, for the past year, I have been privileged to be a member of The Star Teachings Society, a Native American community founded by a Mi’qmak Elder, David Lonebear Sanipass, who is the last Sagen (spiritual seer) of the Mi’qmak nation. He is a humble and kind man who teaches, “When we practice kindness and compassion we become resonant as a community. When we become resonant as a community our full potential as humans becomes available.” http://www.starteachings.org/about/
I have been asked if “tough love” is a form of kindness. It can be seen as a form of authoritarian behavior, which, to me carries a strong implication of exercising “power over” another human being. I cannot consider that ”kind”. However, I see all human beings “standing in the ground they cover…” you and I have each been promised these coordinates in space–time since the beginning of time 13.72 billion years ago. That perception gives me the power to respect you for being exactly who you are, knowing, too, that the same thing holds for me. If you are behaving in a harmful way, because of our equality in this manner, I can call you out for your behavior. If I do that gently and kindly, the environment is tough… and kind.
As all attacking behavior comes from early environmental abuse of any kind, then the survival “fight–or–flight” regions of the brainstem get programmed to defend—but not to be kind. The subconscious result is to attack the other in some way or another… the important thing to recognize here is that this makes a fellow human being “the other”. This separates us. In our growing appreciation of the way of the universe, there is no such thing as “separates us”. We humans, and everything else that comprise the entire universe, are “One.” All of the World’s spiritual traditions make that point and emphasize it. Whenever we make another person place or thing “the Other” we demonize it, and build barriers that we believe protect us. Simply put, they do not.
In fact, these “barriers” are the epitome and perfect expression of “evil”. When I read the Winter, 1999, issue of the quarterly journal, PARABOLA (http://www.parabola.org/), entirely devoted to Evil, my undeveloped concept of this fearful entity developed very quickly into something more meaningful. All of a sudden, I realized how the Berlin Wall could be called “Evil”. It was clear to me that the numbers on the forearm of a human taken into a Nazi death camp were exactly the same thing: the identity of the human being with those numbers was worthless and worthy only of euthanasia. This gave me the power to be able to look into the phenomenon of this political entity now called the Islamic State and see how it has earned that title, “Evil”. Their murderous brutality is only possible because they have put up a wall between themselves and their perceived enemies. The question is, “What is the role of kindness, here?”
We know that the last American murdered by them went to work for the people of that region out of pure kindness. We see that human beings everywhere are volunteering to go to the center of the Ebola epidemic out of kindness. We see in our own country that laws are being written to prevent people from showing kindness to the homeless! For me, the political struggle in our nation’s capital exists because politicians of all stripes and colors are making barriers between themselves and people who, for whatever reason they choose, can be classified as “Other”. A powerful cadre has, from the start, called our president with his brown skin, “Other”. This is more evil, and the only thing that can pull the power out of evil is kindness in the form of compassion.
My experience with compassion began with Christian traditions in my own family. It then developed further as I became aware of the Buddhist traditions that actually pointed the way to convert suffering into peace… that is all… Peace. This then implies the presence of suffering. Consider now the role of suffering in the lives of all of the perpetrators mentioned in the preceding paragraph. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles made the entire German nation suffer by effectively shunning the Germans for having been the primary cause of that devastation. The effect was to raise the walls of evil around a powerful nation in central Europe. The consequence was the arrival of the “savior” named Adolph Hitler… and you do know the rest.
The building of the Berlin Wall was another part of creating the “Other”. Only this time, it was a matter of political ideology driven by the motivations of the two superpowers, capitalists on one hand and communists on the other. It, too, was evil. Many people died trying to go from unkind restrictions on the east to kindness in the West. It did not come apart out of warfare. It crumbled because of the power of peace and the desire to come back together… an act of kindness. This phenomenon was evident in the surrenders of German troops at the end of World War II. They wanted to go to the West, because they knew how vengeful the Russians would be for the terrible suffering caused by the war in their nation. In the West, on the other hand, they knew they would be treated with kindness… as human beings!
Now let us look at the Islamic Nation and ask if the evil behavior is a consequence of suffering. For me, it is… the suffering imposed by the European nations on the different—and very remarkable—world of a remarkable panoply of relationships that had existed in what we call the Near East for hundreds of years. Such destruction of civilization causes national soul loss. If you have read my earlier blog on PTSD and soul loss, you may well ask, “Can a nation or a society suffer soul loss?” Of course it can. Does dispirited, barrier behavior—evil—result from that? Of course it does. Can compassion and kindness help a people recover their collective soul?
Compassion, together with kindness, makes it possible to draw the other’s attention to this programming behavior, and offer the opportunity for us all—the One—to explore and heal those early wounds. Compassion and kindness together make forgiveness possible. Forgiveness leads to inner peace, and the 14th Dalai Lama tells us: “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. The way to happiness lies through inner peace.” And the great teacher of Tibetan Buddhist practices of compassion, Pema Chödrön, shares with “… those experiencing emotional crisis, When Pain Is the Doorway: Awakening in the Most Difficult Circumstances
provides expert guidance to help us stop, stay present, and enter into a more welcoming, spacious place of being that is our true home.”
In closing, I share with you this thought—my “Prime Directive”—“First, do no harm; second, do some good; third, benefit someone; and fourth, be kind to them.” Indeed, remember Anne Herbert’s “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” and work it at every conceivable opportunity… it is infectious.