As I explained last week, choosing silence often helps my inner harmony. Sometimes, choosing silence also equates to being kinder. And Kindness is my third vector.
One of the most powerful articles about kindness I have read is a 2014 piece published in The Atlantic by Emily Esfahani Smith. She discussed kindness in marriage specifically– but her narrative applies to all relationships and to life in general. A short passage from her story:
“Kindness … glues couples together. Research … has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. …
There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.”
Her message—that you never lose by being kind—has stuck with me. I have learned to choose kindness or choose silence. Remember: people fight battles you know nothing about. So always be kinder than you feel or you think is necessary. Interestingly, I am the kindest on days I am the saddest. The first time I had my heart broken, I remember thinking: at some point everyone’s heart gets broken like mine. I need to be more gentle and more kind because everyone needs more kindness in their life.
In her book How to Communicate Like a Buddhist, Cynthia Kane reminds us that It is hardest to be kind to those closest to you. She asks her reader to imagine screaming at our UPS guy the way that we sometimes scream at our partner. We would never. Yet who do we love more? I know that it usually (still!) takes me the most thought and intention to be kind to my father – one of the men I love and admire the most. That’s a harder conscious choice than being kind to the waiter who served my breakfast this morning. Random acts are needed. Conscious acts of kindness towards our loved ones are even more necessary.
Kindness as manners
My maternal grandmother, who came from a distinguished Swiss family, taught me good manners. From the age of 10 I spent one night a week at her home. She would cook dinner, and we would sit together and she would place a broom handle in between my elbows if I did not sit up straight enough. Her intention was that if I were ever to be invited to dinner by royalty, I live up to my maternal family name. I learned proper posture. I learned proper table manners. I learned to always say please and thank you. And how to always acknowledge everyone when I walked into a room or sat down at dinner. She explained to me that manners are not about being a snob. Manners are a way to express grace and kindness in the most mundane way.
Nana also taught me to set a nice table, no matter the occasion. She had nice china (one set only, though, as she never subscribed to the idea of everyday china versus special china). She had silverware. She had linens. She lit candles. I am not suggesting that everyone has the privilege of eating with real silver. But I did learn from her that no matter your means, you owe it to your guests and to yourself (especially to yourself and if you are eating alone), to make that moment as beautiful, as elegant as possible. My mother reminds me of this precept every time I am invited to her house for a meal. She also sees it as an expression of kindness – to herself or to her guests.
Finally, Nana taught me to send hand-written thank you notes –following specific rules: within a week of receiving a gift and always mentioning one detail about it.
In his book 365 Thank Yous, John Kralick talks about the power of sending a thank you note every day for a year. He was in a bad place in his life and thought that focusing on everything he had to be grateful for would help him through his own hardship. This perfectly illustrates the selfish reason to be kind – because it makes you feel better. Don’t just do it for others – do it for yourself.
My three vectors, Choice, Harmony, and Kindness, came about over the years, as I processed various experiences, defined my priorities, and acknowledged my feelings. This self-analysis is a daily practice, which I follow to make sure I don’t just “go with the flow.” To quote Robin Sharma one more time time: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Instead, chart your own course, choose your own path. One day at a time. One silence at a time. One act of kindness at a time. One choice at a time. Starting now.