Tag Archives | kindness

PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO ALL

This blog is called Ways of Remembering. In our world today, I think it’s worth remembering what Christmas really stands for. The message that accompanies the birth of Christ is simple and profound: peace on earth, goodwill to all.

It isn’t Christmas trees or presents; it isn’t overindulgence in food and drink; it isn’t spending money, going into debt. Jesus set the example of a different mind-set, and whether we believe in him or not, it’s a great example that we can all attempt to follow.

He demonstrated by example that everyone has value and deserves kindness, no matter how different from you they may be. He used stories to remind people that it may be the outcast or stranger who actually lives the values we say we have, and those who claim the highest ground often use it to exclude or condemn others, rather than to help others to be in the same place. This is what goodwill to all looks like – inclusiveness and kindness.

Jesus also famously said, ‘Turn the other cheek’. This is often interpreted as weakness or submission, but I think it simply means: stand in your place, but don’t fight for it. If we truly believe we have got it right, we have no need to prove it to others, or try to force them to agree with us . We are more likely to influence another person by being our truth than by trying to convince them with words. This is peace on earth.

So this Christmas, let’s be kind and warm with others – (and ourselves!). Let’s be the best we can be, and let others be how they are without judgement. Let’s have some peace and goodwill, at least within our own sphere of influence!

May you have a peaceful, warm and joyous Christmas time..

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY

So much in our world at the moment seems to be doom and gloom: our politics, our ‘news’, the lack of compassion for others. It is hard to break out of the predominant zeitgeist sometimes, and remember that this isn’t the only human condition.

Yet in amongst this, there are always reminders that there is so much more to being human. I was reminded this week in a way I wasn’t really expecting. I went to see “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”. I don’t really like musicals or Abba’s music, but I sat and soaked up the atmosphere it created: warm, funny and joyful. It made me laugh and cry, engaged me totally, and left me with a feeling of hope and optimism. Why? It told the other side of the story of being human.

Most of the people I know and meet are kind and friendly. They are not selfish or greedy. They may worry about things, but they find their way through it. It’s time we boosted these aspects of being human and began to offset that unpleasant version that seems to infect everything.

If we’re going to change the zeitgeist, we have to start with ourselves. We can be the role modes and demonstrate the best of the human condition.

So let’s start by refusing to take on the story:

  • Let’s find the reasons to be optimistic rather than despairing
  • Let’s notice the good in people rather than what’s wrong
  • Let’s be kind and compassionate rather than critical
  • Let’s find reasons to laugh rather than be miserable
  • Lets appreciate what we have rather than wish we had more
  • And let’s enjoy all the good moments in our lives

It’s time we all told the other side of the story by how we live our lives, and that way we can remind even more people that life can be good.

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DON’T BE A FIXER!

Have you ever told someone about something you had a problem with, and had them immediately jump in with a solution to your problem? We all have, haven’t we? And occasionally it’s useful and helpful, but often it is just somewhat annoying, yet you know they’re just trying to help.

Their solution can sound condescending or just be inappropriate. It may be something you have already considered and decided wouldn’t work for you, or it may just not fit for you or your particular version of the problem.

You see, most fixes offered are ones that would make sense in the fixer’s view of the world, rather than yours. The fixer is interpreting the problem in the way it would show up in their lives and offering the solution that would work for them. So they’ve solved the problem for themselves, should it appear, but not for you! The problem may sound the same as it would in their world, but the implications and impact of it in your world will be different. Similarly, the solution may work in their world, but it may not fit your way of sorting things out, or deal with all the implications for you.

Of course, we’ve all been that ‘fixer’ as well, and of course, we offer the solution because we want to help. So how can we help more usefully?

There are two ways we can be really helpful to someone with a problem. The first way is to take the time to allow them just to talk about it, without judgement or interruptions.

Many years ago, a friend of mine phoned to suggest she came round that evening. I was feeling really miserable and that the world was full of shit, so I told her not to. Ten minutes later, she knocked at the door. ‘I’ve brought wine, and pen and paper,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take notes while you tell me all about it, and we have a glass of wine.’

After about half an hour of pouring out my miseries, I began to feel my mood changing. I apologised for inflicting it all on her, and she said: ‘you didn’t. I was in a good mood anyway, and I feel just fine. I thought I could just be a light at the end of the tunnel, and help you to make your way through that tunnel.’ What a lovely description of what she had done to help me! She had kept herself feeling good, and allowed me to express what I was feeling so it came out of my mind and body, and I could get some perspective again. Just allowing me to talk it out made such a difference.

The second thing we can do for others is to ask questions that help them to sort it out for themselves, in ways that work in their world. A few useful questions might be:

  • What exactly is bothering you about this?
  • How would you like it to be resolved?
  • What would make it possible for you to sort it out?
  • What would help you to sort it out?

These sorts of questions help people to find their own answers, ones that will work for them.

So next time someone comes to you with a problem, don’t be a fixer – be someone who helps them to help themselves.

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SHARING YOUR EXPERTISE

There are some things I’m really good at, and lots of areas where I still have a lot to learn. This week, I’ve been reminded that we all have a different range of expertise and that we can use that to enhance our own awareness. Giving away your own expertise is a lovey gift to give.

This doesn’t mean using it in a one-upmanship way, where we impose it on others to impress them. It means working out what aspects of your expertise might be useful and relevant to someone, and how to offer it in a way that helps them.

I had examples of both approaches at a gardening show last weekend. One exhibitor had a plant I didn’t recognise. I asked her what it was and she said ixia. I was no wiser, and asked her how to care for it. She told me it needed full sun and good drainage, and you could almost hear her unspoken words – ‘but you have to know what you’re doing and be a specialist like me.’

At the other extreme was a man selling alstroemeria plants. I said that I already had some of a different colour and asked him if these spread in the same way. He said that his variety clumped up, and then told me how to ensure that they ‘took’ when planted out, how to make the plant strong, even how to pick the flowers so the plant produced more. He shared his expertise so that I would be able to care for the plant better and have the best chance of enjoying its beauty.

We are taught that ‘ knowledge is power’. This implies that you need to hold on to it to be powerful. Yet the real power comes when you can use your knowledge to make a difference in someone else’s life as well. Give away what you know about, and paradoxically, you lose nothing – you still have all that knowledge. In fact, you gain, because someone else appreciates the gift you have given them, and that knowledge is now being used even more in the world.

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THE CHRISTMAS STORY

Those who know me will know that I’m not much into Christmas – it’s surely not my favourite time of year. Yet each time it comes around, I appreciate the reminder that Christmas – and maybe life in general – is not really about presents and food – it’s to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And that story is a story about miracles, angels appearing, kings and shepherds being equally welcome, compassion, and love.

Whether we believe it or not, it is a story of the potential we have as humans, and calls out to us each time, to live up to our potential. It’s not difficult to be compassionate, to treat everyone equally, to love others – it comes naturally to us. And if we choose to, we can notice the ‘miracles’ in our world, the synchronicities and coincidences, the gentle touch of angels, and the fundamental call and support to the best in ourselves.

This Christmas, let’s remember that love comes first, that miracles can happen, that there is more to being human than the news would suggest.

May your Christmas be joyous and loving!

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BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Oh dear, when are we going to remember that we’re only human, not super – man or woman, not an angel of perfection!

I keep being reminded that we are taught too well to be critical of ourselves, and to expect more from ourselves than we do from anyone else. It is so mean!! We wouldn’t be so harsh with any of our friends or family because we recognise that they are only human, with ups and downs, good moods and bad moods, motivated days and apathetic days..

I have learnt that I ebb and flow – sometimes inspired, sometimes daft as a brush – nothing is constant in me and my moods. And of course, that is our natural state – we aren’t robots or machines that can just keep going at a constant speed in a consistent way. The trick is to take advantage of the times of motivation and energy and let ourselves off and have a bit of a rest when we don’t feel like doing all that stuff – most of it is not actually that important anyway. I find I set myself ridiculous targets and deadlines, and then beat myself up for not meeting them. So I have to re-assess every morning – not whether I have ‘succeeded’ or not, but whether I have been giving myself too much to achieve. Ad if I have, I need to reduce the targets for that day. By doing this regularly, I can keep my tendency to make myself feel bad to a minimum!!

So this week, how about being kind to yourself? I is getting colder, the days are shorter, Christmas is coming and we are feeling the pressure of present-buying, card-sending and stocking up for that – we deserve a break!

So let yourself off, be a little kind to yourself, sit down with that cuppa and relax for 10 minutes, take that extra thing off your list – it can wait – treat yourself to something that makes you feel good, remind yourself of how much you have done, rather than what you have not done. Let’s have a being kind to yourself week – you wouldn’t be so mean with anyone else – don’t do it to yourself!

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OH WELL, TOMORROW’S ANOTHER DAY..

I don’t know about you, but I have good days and bad days. I used to be far more aware of my bad days – you know, those days when you don’t really feel in the mood, and then nothing seems to go smoothly, and you get more and more fed up and frustrated. I could easily end up beating myself up for my ‘failure’ and making myself feel even worse.

And the good days? I tended to take them for granted, not count them, because they were merely what I expected of myself.

I decided a while ago that this was not helping me to have more good days – I don’t respond well to punishment, even when it’s self-punishment! So I started to take a different approach.

Firstly, I had to remind myself that I’m human, not a robot. It’s natural to have highs and lows, be motivated or demotivated, feel energetic or weary.

Secondly, I started actively complimenting myself for the good days, telling myself that I’d done well, that I’d been on form.

Thirdly, I began to notice the bits of the not-so-good days that had been fine – it’s rare to have a totally bad day. At least I got up, and made a nice dinner, and did the washing!

Fourthly, when the day hasn’t gone very well, instead of beating myself up, I let myself off the hook. I adopted the phrase, ‘Oh well, tomorrow’s another day..’

In truth, we can always have another go. Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh opportunity to see if we can make life/work easier and more enjoyable. What’s gone is gone, and agonising over it doesn’t change that. But we can be a bit kinder to ourselves, relax and have a good sleep, and set ourselves up for a better day tomorrow.

I have found that I have far more good days and quite a few good bits of days as well, since I started this. It might be worth experimenting with…

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COMPASSION OR EMPATHY?

In ‘The Book of Joy’ – conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu – they describe empathy as just feeling for someone and compassion as taking the extra step and saying, ‘What can I do to help?’ I love this distinction because it clarifies something I was told a long time ago by some people who had physical disabilities: ‘We don’t want your pity, sympathy or even empathy – it doesn’t help us to be who we can be.’

I learnt by experimentation how to move from sympathy or empathy to compassion with them and got roundly told off if I got it wrong! I remember one young woman who wanted to go to the toilet. I took her there, and lifted her out of the wheelchair to sit her on the toilet, but she was quite heavy and I lost my grip on her. She slid down between the toilet and the wall of the cubicle. I was horrified, and kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Dorcas looked at me and said, ‘Have another go and for goodness’ sake laugh – I must look very funny stuck in this position!’ Wow!! She showed me that I was not reacting as I would if she were my friend, but with pity for her predicament and guilt for my part in making it worse. I wasn’t allowing either her or me to be just humans.

Acting with compassion doesn’t have to be a big thing. You don’t have to volunteer to go into a war zone and help those injured, but you do have to remember that small things can help others and show our compassion with them as fellow human beings.

  • Listen when someone wants to tell you about something with your full attention
  • Freshen up the pillows of someone who is ill in bed and hold their hand
  • Help someone pick up their stuff if they’ve dropped their shopping bag
  • Remind the mum whose child is having a tantrum in the supermarket that it does get better as they get older, hopefully!
  • Have a conversation with the person who says good morning at the bus stop – don’t just look the other way
  • Hold the door open for that person behind you who is in a rush and looking agitated
  • And if you don’t know what to do that would help, ask the person concerned.

All these little acts of kindness and recognition add up to a lot of compassion, and moreover, they are infectious. If you take that small action, often others will do the same.

And don’t forget to show the same compassion for yourself. If you’re feeling miserable or irritated, or unhappy, or rushed, what can you do to help yourself? We can only be as compassionate with others as we are with ourselves, so start by helping yourself to be who you really are.

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LOWER THAT BAR!

Every so often I realise that I’ve started evaluating myself against a set of standards that a saint would find it hard to match – and I’m no saint! I don’t think I’m unusual in this. We all fall into the trap of expecting ourselves to be perfect – whatever that means for us – and then berating ourselves for not matching up to that ideal. It’s very unfair – we wouldn’t do that to a friend.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards, an ideal of how we would like to live our lives, how we’d like to be. In fact, it is part of how we motivate ourselves, and clarify whether we are making progress in our lives. The ideal picture gives us something to aim for and helps us to know what we really want life to be about.

However, it is not motivating to criticise ourselves for not being there yet, and anyway, if we were, we would disappear in a flash of white light, because we would have reached perfection!

The measure of our progress is not in what we haven’t yet achieved, but in what we have put into our lives that moves us towards that ideal. What encourages us to keep going is the recognition that we are gradually making progress, rather than noticing where we’ve slipped or failed or got stuck.

That means that we tell ourselves that we’re pleased with ourselves when we do those stretching exercises, rather than berating ourselves for not doing it today. And we don’t expect ourselves to do it every day, if we are having a go at doing it more often. We start with being pleased at once a week, and when that has become habitual, maybe three times a week. It means we give ourselves credit for all the times we deal with others and their moods compassionately, instead of beating ourselves up for a moment of temper or meanness with someone.

The question is not, ‘Have I done it perfectly?’ it is, ‘Am I doing a bit better on this aspect of my life than I was?’ or ‘What have I done well today towards my ideal picture?’ And if you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, then maybe you need to lower your expectation of yourself for a while, to begin to make progress – you’ll move more easily then.

This approach is not only kinder; it’s also more effective. None of us respond well to being criticised or made to feel like a failure, so why the hell would we do it to ourselves? Give yourself credit for what you do well, according to your own standards, and it gets easier to bring more of it into your life.

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COLLATERAL BEAUTY

I have stolen this phrase from a film I went to see last week. It is the title of the film, and meant nothing to me until I had watched it – if you haven’t seen it, do look for it – it is just lovely!

We all know what collateral damage means now, since they started using it in a war context: the unintended or unavoidable negative side effects of something. Collateral beauty simply describes the unexpected positive side effects of something which seems awful in itself.

At the macro level, it is the kindness and courage of people when there is a major tragedy. At a micro level, it is noticing the sparkle of the raindrops or the return of the birdsong after a heavy downpour. It is appreciating your ability to taste things after a bad cold and becoming conscious of the way nature creates beauty with blossom and flowers, when we are forced to stop our busyness because we are seriously ill.

For me, there are two useful reminders in the phrase.

  1. There is always some form of collateral beauty no matter what is going on. Nothing is wholly awful. We grow, we learn, we come to recognise our own strengths, when awful things happen. And even in the midst of that awfulness, there are always touches of sweetness to remind us that this is not the whole story.
  2. Much of that collateral beauty is always in our lives, should we choose to notice it. There is more kindness than cruelty shown by people in our world, even if it is less reported. Nature is always offering us treats for our senses, should we stop and pay attention for a moment. We can learn and grow and recognise our own strengths through good times as well as the bad ones.

So whatever your present circumstances, keep an eye out for the collateral beauty. It is the universe’s gift to us and we can only gain from it.

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