Le Bel Blog Avec Merci, Day 98: Kindness

January 7th, 2011

I asked Munyin to give me a topic for today, and she said, “Kindness.”

Well, then.

What is kindness to me?  Okay, this is hard for me to do without getting mawkish.

Kindness is a gift that can’t be bought, sold, or given grudgingly.  It’s free and it’s evanescent and usually fleeting.  It’s a hand on the stairs, a smile behind a cash register, a tiny bit effort that has no practical value.  But it changes a moment, makes it better for both the giver and the recipient.

Getting kindness unexpectedly — in the middle of a busy day, for example, when I’m barely in the present because I’m thinking two or three moves ahead — is like a little window opening and a blessing coming through it.  It can affect the way I feel for hours.  It sets an interior chain reaction in motion, and I find myself focused, even if it’s just briefly, on the things that are right: my wife, my life, the sky, the dog, a paragraph I wrote or read a couple of days ago.  The world’s beauty.

We all exist in a web of blessings, and a kind act can make us more aware of them.

One thing I’ve learned in a relatively long life is that women seem to go to kindness more easily than men do, especially where children are concerned.  I used to love to sit in a small Asian village I’d never visited before, just the basic dirt road swarming with kids, and try to figure out which children belonged to which women.  The rule seemed to be that whichever female who was nearest a distressed child would pick it up, sooth it, kiss it, and make a fuss over it, until the kid was okay again.  Then each of them would go her own way and probably never give it a thought again.

What I liked most about it was how transient it was.  There was unhappiness, there was kindness, and then it was over.  Nobody keeping score or feeling righteous.  Just a quick application of kindness as needed, and done.  I remember thinking about one woman, who had picked up and rocked the dirtiest, snottiest kid I ever saw, “You just got ticketed for heaven.”

We’re brought up to believe that the important things are difficult.  But it’s easy to be kind.  In the mornings, when I lay out the basic shape of my day, it wouldn’t take much effort to add “be kind when it’s called for” to my oh-so-important to-do list.

Oh, and add, “try to remain aware of when it might be called for.”

By the way, that’s Guanyin up there, the goddess of compassion.  Even with paintings of her all over my house, I still don’t often open myself to the message, which could be condensed into two words: Be kind.

20 Responses to “Le Bel Blog Avec Merci, Day 98: Kindness”

  1. Glenn W Says:

    Tim,

    A perfect entry for the day. Thanks. Munyin is a treasure. Your topic, “kindness” was the theme of my morning meditation/devotion moments. And then came the blog. I think the gods are speaking to me. I have little to add to what you’ve written save to acknowledge it struck a resonate chord in me and for that I am grateful.
    I possess a rubber stamp with the inscription: “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” When I think of it, I stamp it on whatever envelope I’m sending out that day. Been doing it for about a dozen years. As yet, no one has commented on it. No matter. I like to think that someone “out there” handling that particular piece of mail will stop for a split second and be mindful.

  2. EverettK Says:

    Simple, basic, something that should be automatic to all of us, but which is somehow never taught or is often forgotten. Thanks, Tim and Munyin!

    To EVERYONE: I’ve placed an index to Tim’s blog, starting Oct 1, 2010 (the beginning of the 365 Project) on my website at:

    Blog Index (Open Office document)
    Blog Index (PDF document)
    Blog Index (RTF document)

    I’ve also saved and concatenated all of the blogs and comments into one large file for the months of Oct-Dec 2010 (4th quarter of 2010), making it easy to search and find what you might be looking for. It’s at:
    Tim’s Blog (Open Office document 650 Kbytes)
    Tim’s Blog (PDF document 13 Mbytes)

    The graphics are not included in the Open Office document, hence its smaller size, but they will load from Tim’s web site, as the document contains links to them. The PDF document is much larger, because the graphics were downloaded and included as part of the PDF export. I haven’t figured out a way to convert the Open Office document to any other format that will easily download and include the graphics.

    I plan to continue to update these files every few weeks (hopefully). The blog itself will be done in ‘quarters,’ to keep the files from getting TOO large and unwieldy (it’s already pretty big just doing 3 months).

  3. Rachel Brady Says:

    Wonderful post. Reminded me of this article I like. http://zenhabits.net/kindfully/

    I also like Glenn’s term “mindful” quite a bit. When I remain mindful, the kindness comes easily.

  4. Suzanna Says:

    Thanks, Munyin for suggesting today’s topic, and Tim for actualizing it. Writing this is an act of kindness in itself. Great reminder.

  5. Beth Says:

    I think kindness is an innate quality that gets buried under the things we think are important, the things that clutter our lives as we get older.

    Eighteen years ago, one of my brothers died suddenly. The youngest children in the family, like my son who was seven at the time, weren’t brought to the wake but they did come to the funeral Mass. My son was sitting next to me. Then, for seemingly no reason, he knelt on the pew and began patting my shoulder. He knew what was right for the moment. It wasn’t taught.

    I don’t think that women are more kind than men. I think culturally men have learned not to take spontaneous action. If they have time to come up with a plan, then kindness is easier to express.

  6. Suzanna Says:

    By the say I like today’s blog title. French is such a beautiful language. Wish I could speak it.

  7. Glenn W Says:

    Beth,

    Relating the loss of your brother eighteen years ago comes into my heart as if it were yesterday…and the story of your own son showing such tenderness is heartwarming and encouraging.
    BUT,as the father of four, I do believe that while kindness and compassion may not be taught – didactically – it is something we do learn from the kind and compassionate around us. Obviously, your son acted towards you what he himself had experienced in his own family. Good on you. We learn about forgiveness from being forgiven. We learn kindness from those who have taught us kindness by word and example.

  8. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I agree with Beth. I think women are more spontaneous because historically, they are the caretakers of children, and children absolutely demand that we be in the moment. One does what needs to done. Beth, your son has a gift, doesn’t he? Munyin sounds like a lovely person, and I think you are kinder than you may realize. You use humor and cleverness, but as Everett says-you just might be a softie. To me, in this strange new world we live in, where life can be so hard, I think a little kindness goes a long way, and it makes everyone more content.

  9. Trevel Says:

    I love the ol’ Henry James quote. (Or at least, that’s who I’ve seen it attributed to…)

    “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

  10. Beth Says:

    Lil, my son, now 25, has an outrageous sense of humor. He is quick and funny, a born comedian. All of those things add up to an ability to take people exactly as he finds them. He is pretty much non-judgmental. Right now, as he is wending his way through college, slowly and we hope surely, he has a job he loves. I call him a housemother. He supervises a residence operated by a mental health provider. He doesn’t live there but he is responsible for overseeing 13 mentally-ill men. He can’t make them eat but he makes sure there is food ready for the meals he is supervising. He had Thanksgiving dinner with the few who didn’t have a family to go to.

    One of his charges insists that my bearded son is pregnant. My guy responds to this as if it were true because to this man it is. He takes people exactly as he finds them and I think that is a gift.

    Bearded or not, he is my baby; he has two older sisters who boss him unmercifully so he learned early to duck and cover.

  11. Beth Says:

    Glenn, are your four girls or boys or some of each?

    My son has two older sisters; the oldest is almost nine years older than he. She has had a great deal of influence in the way in which he has developed. And two sisters means a different environment than if there were other boys.

    One of my nephews was born on the same day, the third of three boys. When they were about 18 months old, I heard my son’s shocked cry. My son was flat on the floor with his cousin sitting on him. My nephew had to learn to wrestle as soon as he learned to sit without support. My son had never had such an experience. His sisters were always making sure he didn’t get hurt.

    The family dynamic makes a big difference in how kids come to view the world.

  12. barbara macdonald Says:

    Thanks to you all for the kindness reminders.

    I’m old enough to know better and yet still need to be reminded that mindfulness and kindness go hand in hand.

    Special thanks to Rachel for the zenhabits article and to Trevel for the Henry James quote!

  13. Laren Bright Says:

    Kind of you to share your thoughts.

  14. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Who wants to have a go at Laren?

  15. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I should have Mun suggest more topics. Today is the first day of the American Library Association Conference in San Diego, and I’ve been jammed all day and will also be jammed all weekend, so my comments will have to be much lighter than your response deserves.

    I’m so happy this struck a chord. I felt very awkward writing it because it kept skating into Hallmark territory but finally I told myself not to feel superior to Hallmark and just write it. So I did.

    GLENN — so glad this harmonized with your meditation, when we’re all these miles apart. Synchronicity or something, but whatever it is, it’s positive.

    EVERETT, you are hereby appointed the official chronicler of this blog. I’ve been thinking about erasing them as I went so I could get away with using some material multiple times, but you’ve put a kink in that plan. I’m amazingly flattered that you (or anyone) think this stuff is worth preserving, much less indexing.

    Rachel, thanks for the reminder of the Zen site. I’d forgotten all about it. And Mindfulness should mark every aspect of our lives; the Buddha really had it wired.

    Zanna, please excuse my not having written, although it’s really pretty much inexcusable. We’ll get together while you’re in Los Angeles, and Mun and I send you all our support and love.

    Beth and Glenn and Lil, what a lovely dialogue. Beth, your son does sound amazing, and I agree with Glenn that it probably mirrors his family’s approach to life, so it’s a return to you of a bit of the love you’ve obviously poured into the relationship. And Lil, Mun is the best thing in my life, period.

    Tavel, first, HI — glad to see you, and second, what a great quote. I don’t always associate James with straightforward emotionalism, but this is a wonderful thing to have said. Although I suppose some of the very complicated ladies he wrote might well have felt this way, at least some of the time.

    barbara, you took the words out of my mouth. Great stuff, all around. A

    And Laren, you’re another softie beneath the somewhat prickly exterior.

  16. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Laren-I was just kidding, really.

  17. Glenn W. Says:

    Beth,

    Three sons and one daughter.

    Two sons presently in college, oldest son graduated and daughter also graduated.

    All great kids! I am blessed.

  18. Suzanna Says:

    Thanks, Timsee : ) Looking forward to it.

  19. Larissa Says:

    Guanyin is amazing. The next time you’re in KC, I can show you an amazing sculpture of him/her. He’s amazing (there’s been a lot of discrepancy over the actual gender of dear Guanyin of the Southern Sea depending on where you look. I believe The Lotus Sutra says it’s a “he”…) Anyway-the statue is worth the trip alone.

    Great topic. And yes, there is something really astounding about a fleeting moment when another person bothers to connect without any real reason aside from their humanity. 😀

    Thanks Munyin.

  20. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Riss — Guanyin is a metamorphosis of the compassionate aspect of the Buddha, so it’s no wonder she takes masculine form in older citations, such as the sutras. And thanks for the last sentence of your comment. May be the basis for my next blog.

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