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.
The more I learn about the childhoods of others, I realize what a charmed and blessed childhood I had.ReplyDelete
Perhaps we can count our blessings by counting the times we've shown kindness to others.
It makes all the difference - our childhoods. It is where the grace of a humanitarian is initiated as will as the mind of violence. Everything threads back to that experience. That's not to say we can't grow out of it along the way,but that's a tough road, and most people aren't even aware of what drives them let alone how to alter that. Thank goodness there are those who have been in the early care of parents who instinctively knew that quintessentially important role in life - parent. And there are some beautiful people in the world doing outstanding jobs. My concern is that those who don't understand how to rear children appear to be growing as is evidenced by and increasing number of confused and hurting young children. And yes, kindness is a blessing,and from what I have come to understand, one of the greatest we humans have to offer. Thanks, Chip for sharing your thoughts.ReplyDelete
On Friday I was taking a picture of a little girl about 18 months old. She'd never had her picture made before because she gets so upset, so I asked the assistant director to accompany the child on set, but she was still crying. I had some bubbles to distract her, but what ultimately got her to quit crying was when she caught my eye. She hung onto my look, as I tried to just fill the space with all the love I could, and every time she'd start to cry, I'd catch her attention and she'd look at me, and I just kept doing that with an unwavering kindness and absolutely NO IRRITATION until she began to relax a little. Finally the assistant could begin to let go of her, and then the little girl started to giggle at the bubbles. She had been so scared of another adult that it took all the heart I could muster to get her to relax.ReplyDelete
That doesn't have to be the case. As I follow kids like this, I find that their next steps include things like something else I saw this week. A mother, exasperated after a long day at work, stopped to let her 2 year old get water at the fountain before they left the daycare. When the mother tried to get the child to finish and leave, the child slapped the mother's hand and whined, "NO!" The mother let the child finish and they left.
That's not parenting. That's leaving a child to be utterly defenseless in a world that's not accommodating to selfish whims.
My generation has lost, or never had, a sense of what is Right. Many of us were not shown kindness either, so how could we learn it? If we were forced to define personal integrity or give an example of when we displayed it, we would fall silent. We don't know. And our answer to the challenges of parenthood is to bury our heads in the sand and hope it will get better. Children flounder in that situation. They get scared and angry because they are not getting what they need and what is REQUIRED, which is a solid foundation of love. They can't grow and learn in any other consciousness, and my generation can't define love any better than integrity. Children come into this world engaged, curious, and ready to learn, and they require adults who are willing to get engaged with them, to leap into the trenches and figure it all out as the challenges arise, not run away and hide.
As I was driving to work yesterday, it occurred to me that the single biggest issue today is the epidemic of non-parenting. I am particularly convinced of this from my own experience of what you have written about, kindness. That crying little girl trusted me implicitly in a matter of minutes because she knew instinctively that she could. There was nothing in me that would have betrayed her trust, and she knew it, because kids are so sensitive like that. She could trust me because I was kind, and unwaveringly kind. She could then begin to explore the world around her. Next, she could laugh at my bubbles. A few minutes of kindness, and the little girl's world completely changed, and mine, too, for what it's worth, because we were in it together. That's all it took. It's taken me many years and a lot of work to learn this, and it's not been easy. But worth it? Hell yes. (And other expletives). And I'm no more special than any parent out there, struggling to find a way to deal with the challenges children bring, so I know it can be done.
Also, I like that part in your blog about the very talented photographer. I wonder if you didn't mean to capitalize VERY? :) (JUST KIDDING!!!) Sheesh!
You're a hoot, Miss A. And thank you for making what I talked about real. We're not dealing in theories here. Life needs immediate attention in the parenting arena.Delete
I don't know for sure what the cause is, but I believe it's a situation that must be addressed and I very much fear that it won't be. What does that mean for future generations?ReplyDelete
For one thing, it heads us toward a harsher and more insensitive population and secondly a less engaged one. Democracies require citizen engagement so not only can we expect more personal challenges dealing with the coarseness of unfeeling people but also the weakening of our political system and the life we've become accustomed to thanks to it.Delete
Love this Christina .. and no surprise the Ezine I wrote for this week was about Kindness. Important and important!ReplyDelete
Ah... the old great minds. It is a very misunderstood topic so more words are better than fewer.Delete
Here is a friend of mine, Paul White, working in KINDNESS in Ventura California. THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS beautiful , helpful post, Love, merriReplyDelete
You are always welcome.Delete
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