So said the Dalai Lama when asked what his religion was. To be honest, I have to admit that when I first heard his answer to that question, I didn't get it. I really had no idea about the nature of kindness. To me, it was someone being nice or considerate or civil and that seemed hardly the basis for spiritual accomplishment in my book. But the other day something happened to change all that.
I was putting individual packages of photographs together for our next sale, looking at these dear children we’d photographed and thinking about what I see at childcare facilities these days when Bert and I sit there for long hours selling photos. These are young children, babies to five-year-olds. In the photos, our very talented photographer has captured them in a safe moment of connection with her, so we see them bright-eyed, innocent, and often smiling or laughing. But increasingly, she has had to bring them out of seeming endless moments of acting out in ways that past generations rarely saw among those so very young.
There is growing defiance in young children today. They exhibit anger, dis-trustfulness, resistant and defensiveness, attitudes that are not at all endearing. A reasonable question is, what is happening within families and our society that children appear so reactive and disrespectful? It hit me, as I sat there looking at them - kindness is disappearing from our personal interactions, replaced by a growing sense of self-absorption that is now filtering down to our children.
All of a sudden while looking at them, I felt my frustration and sadness of seeing them afraid, not listened to, their innate curiosity and innocence locked away and increasingly difficult for them to find, lift away as something in me stopped judging and instead felt only kindness toward them. It is difficult to put into words how extraordinary the sensation was, but I felt how their compensatory reactions would melt away in the face of true kindness. I think more than anything, children need to feel safe and accepted. Such safety soothes their fears, the ones now initiating their harsh reactions. I could feel how cooperative children would be from the get-go, if kindness was what redirected their misguided behavior, if kindness eased their embarrassment, if kindness was their teacher, if it received them in its arms to set them free later calm, renewed and appropriately redirected.
That was a big step for me as I had never known kindness growing up, and I don’t think I’m alone in that respect. I knew discipline, orders and rules taught through manipulation and shame, but I never felt kindness. There was no real safe harbor there, no unconditional status. There was market place mentality – you do this and you’ll get that. As I grew older, I actually didn't believe in kindness, it seemed too soft to effect appropriate change. But in that moment of inspiration, I realized only kindness has the power to provide a true learning environment, only kindness turns our hearts, only kindness breeds trust. If instead, we order our children around, demand certain behaviors and force their responses, all that can ultimately result is fear and frustration that then spawns endless emotional reactions such as anger, hurt, resistance and retaliation. Kindness, on the other hand, is love in action. It engenders an environment where we can let down our resistance and defenses and truly learn. I believe our trust issues stem from lack of kindness in our lives and without trust, every request calls for reconsideration before we can offer ourselves to that moment. Living without trust is life in isolation. The degree to which today’s children are shut down is the degree to which they find so little terrain they sense as trustworthy.
Kindness creates a different sort of interface than any other human behavior. It expects nothing. It is a state of being where there is no need to rant, boss, diminish or judge to get children to turn away from their hurt-based actions and acknowledge new choices. There is no greater joy than living among kind people, and, concomitantly, there is no greater sorrow than people so completely untouched by kindness that it can no longer tempt them to drop their defensive choices and join in its peace and safety.
I now understand why His Holiness referred to his religion as kindness for it is by its very nature infinite in source and endless in its capacity to heal.