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Are You Practicing the Hard Kind of Kindness?

Written by Marsha Rakestraw | Published on January 13, 2014 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/01/13/practicing-hard-kind-kindness/

looking up concrete stairs on a hillWhen it comes to people we like, and even strangers, it can be pretty easy to be kind.

But most of us know at least a couple of people we just don’t like. And then there are those who are causing harm in the world. Why would we want to show kindness to them?

The simple answer is that the only way we can create a world of kindness, compassion and justice is to constantly strive to model kindness, compassion and justice, and thus nurture it in others. Being kind, even when the kindness isn’t returned (and sometimes in the face of vitriol or violence), is, as blogger David Hayes says, “… hard. And it is fundamentally about vulnerability. About laying yourself open, if only the smallest bit, so that someone else can accept that opening. Kindness is about saying things people may read as weak, or stupid, or weird. About doing things without any guarantee you’ll receive anything in return.”

So how do we practice the hard kind of kindness?

IHE’s director of communications, Karen Jones, suggests, “Figure out something, no matter how seemingly minor, you have in common. Consider that they may be in your orbit to teach you something. If you believe Marc Ian Barasch’s ‘What I do unto others, I do unto myself,’ remember that unkind thoughts, words and actions are self-destructive and damaging to your own spirit.”

Lexie Eppers Greer, an IHE M.Ed. student, says that when she struggles with being kind to others , she thinks “… of the story Marc Ian Barasch retells in ‘The Compassionate Life’ about a woman who asks the Dalai Lama for the definition of compassion.  She explains to the Dalai Lama that she was heart-stricken after seeing a man beating a dog, to which he replies: ‘Compassion is when you feel as sorry for the man as you do for the dog.’ I always try to remember that story when I’m feeling less than kind.”

And Rabbi Mayer, in a “Religion Outside the Box” podcast that discusses what he calls “impossible people,” says, “The best way to deal with impossible people is to love them … Actively loving [an impossible person] is not something you can do from the sidelines, it’s something you have to do — you have to take action.”

When we practice the hard kind of kindness, it doesn’t mean we excuse or accept harmful actions; it isn’t the same as condoning any hurt or suffering or destruction others have caused.

Being kind when it’s hard helps us maintain our own integrity, to “walk our talk.” It extends our circle of compassion, planting seeds for others. It prescribes the kinds of relationships we must strive to have with other people, the earth and nonhuman beings if we are serious about doing the most good and least harm for all.