Kindness matters

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When I was in business, I had a client who used to make big speeches about “random acts of kindness.” He had read a book, and was convinced that the secret to life required only these unexpected gestures; even the smallest act could yield enormous results. He was very excited to think that each person could make a difference. He always made a point of relating every such act he had performed recently in order to illustrate the theory and how well he was adhering to it. The upshot of the speech was, of course, what a great place the world would be if everyone was as thoughtful as he was. What a great guy.

The truth is he was a good guy, but he evidently was only committed to random acts. Anything as structured and regular as paying invoices on time didn’t seem to qualify. He didn’t pay me, he didn’t pay his employees, and presumably he didn’t pay his other suppliers. His delinquency was one of the contributing factors in the loss of my business, and certainly caused hardship for his employees. He was aware of the effects of his actions, but was not able to take responsibility for them.

He was causing other people pain, but kept talking about kindness.

The reality of who we are is often divorced from who we think we are. Most people see themselves as either far better or far worse than they really are. Not many people see the truth: that most of us are just doing the best we can. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t. We are both the best and the worst that we think we are, and a lot of stuff in between.

I remember a conversation I had once with friends at a Chinese restaurant. Someone’s fortune said: “Everything will now come your way.” Everybody oohed and aahed over it. How great! Everything is going to be terrific! I pointed out that it doesn’t say “Everything will be terrific.” It said, “Everything will now come your way.”

Big difference, but it took them a while to see it. Everything is simply…uh…every thing. All things, good and bad, welcome and unwelcome. And that’s life. Everything does come our way, but we reject some things as being “bad,” and rejoice at the rest. Where there is light, there is shadow. We forget the shadow part — forget that it is a normal part of life — that without the shadow there can be no light. Light is defined by shadow, and vice versa. Black needs White, Good needs Evil. They both have to be present.

Often we can’t accept the shadow in ourselves. We don’t even see it most of the time. It’s there, believe me. In everyone. No one is perfect, and I think, actually, that is the point. The shadow — our own, others’, the country’s, and the world’s — the shadow side of life in total, is our path to freedom, but because it’s strewn with big ugly rocks that are difficult to pass, and guarded by big hairy monsters, we’d rather not go down it. We keep thinking there must be another way.

I would like to believe there’s an easy way, too. But I just don’t think there is. There is just the one path, this “human life” road, rocks and monsters and all. The thing is, though, that it’s an exciting journey; for better or worse, and sometimes it’s a lot of fun. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes arduous. But it is always worth it.

Yes, I believe that. Even when people let me down. Even when life lets me down. Even when I let myself down. We’re all just here, and we’re doing the best we can, and that’s okay. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. It’s hard for everyone.

Step into your shadow. Examine it. Understand it. It really is everything coming your way.

Ultimately, it’s the only way.

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