Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Kindness Movement is Paving Life's Rocky Trail

Naming the neighborly

Today, hectic commutes, air conditioned and triple pane windowed homes and a text-instead-of-knocking style often seal us off from neighborly cup-of-coffee-cup-of-sugar kindness. Filling this void are social movements for kindness, branded under local badges like Ben's Bells and the wide-armed embrace of The World Kindness Movement.

[Ben's Bells.org]

Ben's Bells explains the importance of kindness:
"Recent research demonstrates that kindness benefits our physical and mental health, and that recognizing kindness in others increases a person's happiness and satisfaction. But just as solving a calculus problem requires advanced math skills, the challenges of daily life require advanced kindness skills. By focusing on kindness and being intentional in our personal interactions, we can improve our ability to connect."

Be an island of kindness

Pulling up to the red light recently, I glanced across the three lanes to my left, where I knew he sat. A flash of recognition between us felt like God's eye. He raised his hand in a wave: a still palm, and I powered down my window to do the same. He left his low beach chair which daily rode the median island, and walked the two car lengths to stand and call to me: "Have you had a good day?" 
Still universal: the peace sign

Yes, it was God's voice, and my thoughts of reaching for my wallet, vanished. He was not a panhandler; in fact, the only sign I had ever seen said he was a 'hard working Vietnam veteran.'  "Have you had a good day?" was the kind of question I needed to answer  because yes-- I'd had a really good day:  the kind with divine fingerprints all over it in the form of solid intuitive prompts, solid handshakes, and that solid sensation of belonging where I stood.

"Yes! A blessed day!" I called across three car hoods, "and God bless you, too!" The light turned green, and I accelerated under its glow.

At first, I thought it was silly to make a social movement of a behavior that was part of my formation:  "Be kind to your sister (or brother)" mom or dad said. But I've come to see the value of those Be Kind decals; in a world where we need Laughter Yoga to induce a healthy howl, every reminder helps.

This post is one of those reminders, and comes with a bonus geology lesson!

Nice isn't necessarily easy

Gneiss boulders, author photo
Gneiss forming a tinaja, author photo

The striking rock pictured here is called gneiss (pronounced 'nice'.) I learned from prolific geology writer, John V. Bezy that, up to 35 million years ago, intense heat and pressure liquefied the minerals (feldspar, quartz and mica) of southern Arizona's Oracle and Wilderness granites. The material, "like hot, soft plastic [was] smeared in long ribbons parallel to the direction of the crustal stretching."
(Source: Bezy, John V., A Guide to the Geology of Sabino Canyon and the Catalina Highway)

Sometimes, I call my time outdoors, 'looking for gneiss,' knowing it is a dual opportunity to discover and participate in the homophones gneiss and nice. Creating nice (kindness) is far less intense than metamorphic gneiss, but I believe you will find it to be transforming. And it can become easy with practice. In my post about forming the habit of condolence writing, I reveal that practicing by doing becomes a feel-good experience you will return to again and again. Kindness (being nice) can take many, many forms; start with a smile, a small courtesy such as letting that merging car into your lane.

Condolence note writers begin with small kindnesses

Stepping up as a messenger of support helps a grieving person merge back into the flow of living. During this time of intense activity and feelings (a time line that is unique to each grieving person,) your kind words, in written form, are a touchstone of recognition and roadmap to resolution. Begin by spending a few moments reflecting...who you knew and know, what you shared and share, how you felt then and now. 

A note composed of simple observations and sincere expressions is a gift. 

  • Use names
  • Express appreciation for the deceased, and for the survivor
  • Describe a quality that you respect or admire
  • Share a memory
  • Make an observation about a special moment or helpful influence
  • Perhaps, offer some practical assistance such as transportation, child care, household help 
This blog covers many areas of loss, and more sensitive ways to support them. Come back often to polish your understanding and skills.
Thank you for caring!

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