When my son was in middle school I went to a workshop/book group for parents of almost-teenagers. The topic, generally speaking, was how to help steer clear of risky behavior. The book we received, handed out the night the group met, was 100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents. We barely discussed the book, which I’ll touch on later.
Instead, the facilitator, an experienced therapist who’d worked with children and families for decades, told stories to illustrate a single, central piece of advice: If parents want children to do or not do something (drink alcohol, for example), then parents have to teach their children practical ways of doing, or not doing, whatever it is. Parents have to teach a “how” that goes along with the “what.”
One of the stories she told, for example, was about how her older brother, who was already in college at the time, taught her to handle alcohol at parties. He showed her how to order a clear drink and then surreptitiously dump the drink out and fill the glass with water (preserving the ice and lime). Or order a beer, take a sip or two and then make a pit stop, dump the beer in the bathroom sink, and fill the can with tap water.
This gesture was, of course, a great kindness. Caring about his sister’s welfare and wellbeing, he wanted to help her, and teach her skills she could use that matched both what he knew about his sister and what he knew about college parties.
True kindness, rooted in honesty, affords a kind of dignity and grace in which there is no imbalance of power.
Kindness is paying for someone’s coffee, but it’s also telling someone — privately — if they have food in their teeth or snot in their nose. It’s being clear about boundaries, owning up to mistakes, and facing things head-on but without aggression. Kindness is direct; it’s responsive, not reactive.
So how do we live into, and perhaps teach, the practical practice of kindness?
Of the many books and blogs on the subject of kindness, I’m partial to Donna Cameron’s A Year of Living Kindly. Like the therapist’s brother’s advice, Cameron’s book offers practical ways to embody kindness in everyday activities — both kindness to self and kindness to others.
For kindness to take root within a group — a business, perhaps, or even inside a household — I wonder if the creative collaboration framework might be useful, too. Maybe start with a specific example of where kindness is/was lacking, or perhaps a recurring situation that tends to be tense or uncomfortable. What would kindness look like in that situation, from everyone’s perspective? What factors would affect kind behavior?
It’s a stretch, I know. But the proliferation of “Be Kind” stickers and memes isn’t getting the job done; we’re getting less kind, it seems, no matter how many “Be Kind” signs there are.
Maybe it’s time to think, for each of us, in our own little corners of the world, about the how of kindness, not just the what.
Give it a thought, anyway? Be back tomorrow, likely with something different.
Oh, the book, from the workshop for parents? I brought it home and gave it to my son, as the therapist recommended we all do. I left it on his bed, casually, saying only that I’d misunderstood the workshop description and that the book was for him, not me.
My son hated reading. Hated it. But he was curious, and the title did seem exciting.
Hours later, as I was coming upstairs and heading to bed, I noticed a light coming from under the covers in my son’s room. I poked my head in and asked if he were still awake (even though I knew the answer). He popped out from under the blanket, wide-eyed. “Mom! Did you read this book?!” (“A little, yes,” I said.) “So you know what’s in here??!!” (“Yes; I know,” I said.) “And you gave it to me ANYWAY??!” (“Good night, kiddo; try to get some sleep.”)
You’re expensive. Sheesh.
But worth it.
Thank you for sharing!
Jenny, I loved your example of the brother showing his sister how to be safe in drinking situations. And also your wise assertion that kindness “affords a kind of dignity and grace in which there is no imbalance of power.” And thank you(!!) for citing my book and blog. You are so right that looking at the hows of kindness, and not just the whats, opens us up to so many more opportunities to experience kindness—both as the giver and the recipient. Your creative collaboration framework would be a great tool to launch a discussion of—and movement toward—kindness in a company, or a department within a company, as well as in a family or any group where people see the potential benefit of building their kindness skills.
There is some evidence that we’ve seen an increase in kindness since the pandemic began, but, sadly, those quiet stories of people helping neighbors and strangers are drowned out by the louder and more sensational stories of cruelty, bigotry, and actions prompted by fear.
Thank you for shining a light on and spreading kindness.
Thank you, Donna. Let us be kindness warriors together!
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