Practicing Kindness

It’s an angry world out there and my own temperament is not helping. I can launch into a rant quick as a flash regarding politics, why there doesn’t need to be a television everywhere I go, why my child needs to practice piano and why stores don’t sell age-appropriate clothing. I read an article this morning that included comments by Rush Limbaugh regarding congressional testimony by a woman from Georgetown. I was, as always, immediately incensed and thought of not very flattering names I’d like to hurl at Mr. Limbaugh.  I don’t really know his parentage or whether he just has low metabolism, so it would reflect my own ignorance and I’m guessing, not bother him a whit.

If you spend any time reading the online comments under news stories, it seems the world is an angry, misanthropic place full of really scary people bubbling with rage. It’s a skewed view, so I must take a break from reading news, and talk to friends and family to remind myself not everyone is a sociopath. Not everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame at the expense of human dignity and kindness.

Raising a child brings on a level of consciousness that is hard to live with at times. After telling my child that you sometimes have to ignore other people’s rude behavior, an hour later I’m spewing a string of curse words in the car because the driver ahead didn’t use his or her turn signal. Thanks to parenting, I’m aware of how unhelpful it is as I am doing it. I’m assuming awareness is the first step to learning not to rage at every little thing, or it’s just an exercise in self-flagellation.

These days, I’m trying to talk myself out of full rants. Maybe the driver was distracted because they were worried about losing their job, had a fight with a spouse, or were up all night with a sick child. Maybe the person talking loudly on their cell phone about their colonoscopy suffers from hearing loss. Maybe, just maybe, dishes will still get clean if they’re stacked haphazardly in the dishwasher. Maybe my child really can’t hear me when I ask for the 500th time for toys to be picked up. Reflexive thoughts are like muscle memory, if you practice changing your habitual thoughts, you develop a new habit. I know I am not necessarily motivated by the betterment of the world in my daily life. I am, however, motivated by not wanting to feel like an out-of-control festering ball of rage. That simmering anger has to be fed, either by habit or intent. And I’m the one responsible for that.

The American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, writes “Making friends with yourself is making friends with other people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there’s no obstacle to feeling loving kindness for others as well.” This is the beauty of practicing kindness towards others – it makes you better at being kind to yourself. Frankly, I don’t care which process comes first. Sometimes it is simply easier to start with others rather than yourself. I realize that this defies the “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” instruction. Like any other practice, mental or physical, you have to lower your expectations for some down days. If a down day means you focus on being kinder to others, that’s a win, my friend.

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