Kindness is My Religion

Back when I was single, I created a few personal profiles for online dating sites. When asked to name my religion, I wrote “Kindness.” It sounded kinda cute at the time, but it’s also what I truly believe in and try to practice.

Kindness touches the soul, or at least my soul, and connects us all on such a primal level. Raised as a Christian, I knew all about the Golden Rule of doing unto others as we’d have them do to us. And who doesn’t want to be treated with kindness?  The hard part is doling it out on a regular basis in our stressed out, fast-paced, I’ll-trust-you-when-you-prove-trustworthy culture.

And that’s why I’m a sucker for strangers (and others) who extend kindness to me.

I have struggled with depression in my life and, even though it no longer overtakes me, I’m still what they call a highly sensitive person on the planet.  Some days, I just feel things very deeply. When I see people with physical challenges moving tentatively on the street, I recognize that they are moving through space and time in the same way that I do when I’m in a tender place, emotionally. Sharp words, like sharp objects, can slay me on those days, and being rushed or dismissed can feel like violence.

So when someone takes the time to be kind to me, it feels like a big deal, and pierces through the emotional haze like Cupid’s arrow. It could be the barista who compliments my shirt while making my latte, the deli clerk who helps me to choose the best sliced turkey and offers me samples, the women with the umbrella offering to escort me (sans umbrella) to my car in the driving rain, or the gas station attendant smiling and wishing me a great day when all he really had to say was “Thanks.”

No matter the source, kindness really sticks.

When my husband moved to the U.S., he arrived from Senegal with a duffel bag and a knapsack, which obviously didn’t allow for a lot of clothes and accessories. Not that he had much of those, because he’d given nearly everything away to friends and family before emigrating. He did have sandals, sneakers and a pair of slightly small working boots that a friend had given him.

As it was March in New England, the sandals went straight to the closet. As funds were limited, we took the boots to a shoe repair shop for stretching. The Ugandan man behind the counter welcomed my husband to the United States with a 1,000-watt smile, unlike the airport worker who’d met him with hostility a few days before. (Note, my dear husband did unknowingly trigger this reaction by wearing a Yankees cap as he entered Logan airport. It was in the trash before we hit the highway home.)

Upon exchanging a few welcoming words to his “African brother,” the cobbler handed my husband a pair of shoes that another customer had long ago abandoned. My husband, while not so fond of the shiny shoes, was grateful for this kindness during a time of traumatic change.

One day I dialed the yoga center where I teach and left a message about some business. Moments later, I got a call back—from a guy in Brooklyn who gets such calls “all the time” because his phone number is similar to the yoga center’s.  “Namaste from New York,” he said into my voice mail. “You dialed the wrong number and I didn’t want you to think that no one returned your call.”

Namaste, indeed, for being considerate enough to call me with that information.

A real King of Kindness in my book is Narayanan Krishnan, who gave up a promising career as a chef to start feeding the homeless, hungry, and destitute in his Indian hometown. The astonishing part is not the succulent meals he delivers, but the love that he feeds to his people—cutting their hair, and bathing and hugging them, even as his caste rules forbid it. As Krishnan says, “We all have 5.5 liters of blood,” no matter our race, class, or bank account balance.

And so I try, and sometimes fail, and try again to be kind to those around me. It helps when I remember to start with myself, because practicing self-compassion often makes it easier to feel compassion for others.

I also try to remember that I can never know what trouble is in the heart or mind of another person. The guy who cuts me off at the rotary may have just lost his job. The woman who lets the door shut in my face may be worried sick about a sick child. “If you’re gonna make up a story, make up a good one,” my friend Karen used to say when I’d get all twisted up about a perceived slight from someone.

Of course, sometimes people just behave badly. But when I remember to cut them (and me) some slack for being human and having bad days, life just feels…kinder.

17 thoughts on “Kindness is My Religion

  1. Like you, Kim, I’m a sensitive person with a low threshold for indignity. Perhaps, also like you, I can begin to use these perceived slights as a reminder how it feels to others when I don’t take the time to be kind. Namaste, Kim.

    1. thanks Dana and Linda – believe me, it’s a practice and an aspiration to meet unkindness with kindness, and I don’t always succeed, but when I know better I do better, as Oprah was fond of saying…

  2. Three years ago I attended a weekend conference, one of the exercises was sharing with our neighbor what we wanted most out of life, my response, kindness. Tearfully I wished, prayed and intended for everyone to treat each other with kindness throughout the world. Such a simple thing to do and yet so often not what is on peoples minds. So I truly understand the power of kindness and how it can move people, especially when others are not expecting it. Kindness opens doors and to me it is such a thoughtful way of giving.

  3. Kim – Thanks for such a lovely reminder. Seeing how simple this is brings a tear to my eye, as I think of how easy it is to snap out of kindness, and into behaviors that are not so kind. Those survival mechanisms we bring along -or, speaking for myself, those that I bring along- can be so strong. But not as strong as my desire for kindness. Tonight I pray for more kindness. xxo

  4. Thanks for reminding me about the importance of kindness. It seems like I’m always cranky – I need to remind myself that I deserve better, and so do the that people around me.

  5. Well said my friend. I too, being a sensitive soul, understand the need for more kindness, love and charity. For me, giving and receiving kind thoughts and gestures is the best feeling in the world.

  6. I was reminded by your blog of an “aha moment” I had from reading one of Pema Chodron’s books a few years back – that when we experience unkindness, harshness, judgment, etc. the hardest thing to do – and yet the most powerful – is to approach the experience with an open and curious heart. I am not as highly evolved as Pema, so for me this remains very difficult, but I have found more and more that if I approach a person who is “being difficult” with curiousity, rather than allowing myself to take it personally, I am more effective in that moment, and I am also not triggered in the same way. My daughters would tell you that I am most assuredly NOT that way when I drive, but when I am on my own two feet, encountering another person face-to-face, I can sometimes summon curiosity and ask a question rather than replying in kind. I will probably not live long enough to make this a natural part of who I am 🙂 since that would take many many decades of practice, but even once in a while being able to look at the other person with a genuine smile is progress.

  7. Back in the day I often said “kindness is contagious” Over the years life has worn me down and I lost sight that kindness is a choice and intention. Thank you for reminding me and being authentic. Your blog touched my heart and soul. Your stories resonates with me and inspires me!… lovely and thought provoking! Hugs of kindness to you!

  8. That was beautiful! And I agree with Karen, if you are going to make up a story make up a good one. I must say, I mostly decide not to make up any story at all……it’s energy I don’t want to or need to expend. Plus, I’m quite sure I have knowingly and unknowingly been unkind to others myself. I figure it’s best to admit it.:>

  9. Dear Kim,
    I was so moved by the story of Narayanan Krishnan that you shared, and know breath by breath, word by word, act of love by act of love we make our world. Sending blessings on your web blog, and your continued journey.
    Peace,
    Anna

  10. Thank you for sharing Kindness is my Religion. Boy did it ever come at the right time for me. I just lost my job of 11 years. When they met with me it was all about negativity–somehow they forgot to tell me that the reality was they lost their funding for my position as they did for several other positions as well. And yes I could go on & on but I choose not to replay but to move through –to where I don’t know as so many places can’t hire right now -even for positions they would like to fill. But I can move on emotionally. You reminded me that regardless of all the negativity banging on our doors, we can rely on a place deep within that is strong & complete and capable of giving kindness to others regardless of our own situations. Situations come & go, but kindness should have a place–a home, to live within us. Thank you for sharing the article.—Zoe

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