Something I’ve been reflecting on a lot lately is kindness and its value in our world. We all have a need for community, a yearning to express ourselves and feel loved and understood. I was planning to begin writing a series that took kindness as its topic, exploring the little concrete ways we can increase the presence of kindness in our daily lives. However, in light of the current state of things and social distancing measures, our capacity for kind acts might seem to be diminished. How can we show kindness when we can only see each other from afar?
Perhaps we need to rethink kindness and how we can experience its workings. So often we think of everything in terms of ‘doing’ – concrete and visible actions and accomplishments become the source of our value. But kindness begins from within, not in an external sharing – instead, this external expression can only stem from a kindness that we first show to ourselves. This is why I think it is so important that right now, in a time of uncertainty, anixety and loneliness, we give ourselves the same gift of kindness we might want to give others. If we can be gentle with ourselves and see our worth as residing in something more than what we do or do not do, then we are actually freed to be more authentically ourselves and use the gifts we have been given, without any shame attached to these gifts.
One of my favourite quotes is from the philosopher Josef Pieper: in his book Faith, Hope and Love, he writes, “It is good that you are! How wonderful that you exist!” Even when so many of the things we have hoped for, expected or grown accustomed to in our world are stripped away from us, we can still find peace and joy in the giftedness of our existence – every moment is a gift and every moment can have beauty if we have the eyes to look, no matter how mundane. This doesn’t mean that we will always appreciate the gift, and it is okay to grieve, to experience sadness and the like – our emotions are also gifts. They allow us to process our experiences, and shouldn’t be sources of shame.
When we treat ourselves with this kindness, then it can flow forth from us in an expression of empathy for the other. We may not be able to bump into a friend on the street or do the normal things we would do to show our affection. But the circumstances call for creativity and different kinds of connection. We can still reach out to each other, speak to each other, listen to each other – and one of the greatest gifts in life is to be listened to and understood, to feel appreciated, valued and noticed for who you are rather than something you’ve done.
I’m going to keep brainstorming ways I can reach out to those around me in a world that looks very different than how we have experienced it before. One of the scariest parts of our current situation is the lack of control – the helplessness we may be feeling without secure knowledge or the ability to predict the future. Yet our capacity for kindness – to ourselves and to others – is one way in which we still have power; the ability to love and to treat others with compassion is something that can never be taken away from us.