Tag Archives: behaviour with others

KINDNESS

It seems right to remind ourselves at this time of year that there is a lot of kindness in people. The news is full of disaster, woes, hardship, and it is easy to feel that that is all there is.

Yet every day I experience or witness acts of kindness – it is a constant. It may be something apparently small: someone reaching a tin from the top shelves of a supermarket for another who can’t reach there; or it may be a big act of generosity and thoughtfulness, like funding free school meals for a year, so children get at least one hot meal a day.

It doesn’t matter. They all add up to a lot of kindness in the world and it is important to remember this, and put it into the balance against the incompetence, cruelty and difficulties so many face.

So let’s play our part. Whenever we can, let us add our small acts of kindness to the balance. And when others show us kindness, let us fully appreciate it and not take it for granted.

It will help us all to feel better and keep our faith that things can improve. May you have a joyous peaceful Christmas, and may 2023 bring better times, with even more kindness and compassion.

WHAT ARE THE UNIVERSAL VALUES PART TWO

In my last blog I explored the values and principles that drive our thoughts and reactions. In this one, I want to look at those which drive our behaviour with others.

There is one principle that underlies everything else: treat others as you would wish to be treated. This gives us all a simple guide to our behaviour with others – we all know how we wish to be treated. Just applying this principle would put an end to unfairness, nastiness, disrespect, discrimination, injustice, because none of us wish to experience these behaviours from others.

There are four main values it implies. He first is fairness. This means giving others the opportunity to be the best they can be. It is often called a level playing field, and that means being able to start with the same advantages and disadvantages as everyone else. It also means, on a direct personal level, giving others the chance to explain, express their views, be heard.

Secondly there is respect. This means appreciating differences rather than criticising them. It also means what my parents called ‘manners’ – not being rude or dismissive.

Thirdly there is trustworthiness. This means doing what you’ve said you’ll do, keeping your word. It also implies keeping confidences and not being a gossip.

And finally there is compassion. This is when you bring your heart into the situation. It is offering kindness rather than judgement.

And all of these require that we communicate with others. This word means finding what we have that we share, by talking, listening and observing, our common humanity. We do that by real face-to-face conversations, not through texts or emails. Everyone has a story, and we enrich our world by hearing each other’s stories.

Al this is obvious, isn’t it? We almost all intend to live by these principles and values on a personal level. Yet this is not how our world seems to work.

It is time we translated all this into demands for a better world, one that would work for the majority, not just the few.

What does that mean? I have some suggestions – next blog…

BEHAVING WITH DIGNITY

In this country, we have just had an example of someone behaving without any dignity at all – our soon-to-be ex-prime minister if you haven’t guessed who I mean! His resignation speech was boastful, full of blame on other people, defiant and without an ounce of recognition for what had brought him to this place in his ‘reign’.

It made me think about what behaving with dignity really means, because it sounds rather worthy and proper, and those are adjectives I tend not to apply, certainly to myself! And I reckon dignity is a quality that is appropriate in certain situations, rather than a quality that we demonstrate all the time. (This may be true of all possible qualities).

So when do we behave with dignity? Certainly in defeat. If we have lost the argument, it is time to admit it, and allow the other person their victory without recrimination. It also applies when we are conducting that argument: we can make our case strongly, but it is undignified to cast aspersions on the other person’s personality, and personalise the argument. Dignity is a form of acceptance of how things are, whether you believe they are right or wrong.

Dignity is also about not being shamed or shaming others. That is why we talk about allowing people to die with dignity. It is making sure that others don’t feel bad about themselves.

I think there is one more aspect to dignity. It is about behaving appropriately when the circumstances are solemn, serious, important. No-one in a court setting wants someone to stand up and say, ‘Well this is a laugh isn’t it!’

Now I am not a person who would be described by others as dignified, but I do hope that when the circumstances demand it, I do behave with dignity. Please let me know if I fail!!

WHOSE APPROVAL DO YOU SEEK?

I saw an interview with Whoopi Goldberg, where she was asked this question. She replied without hesitation, ‘Only my own.’ It made me think about how much approval from others can shape how we behave.

It starts when we are little. We seek approval from our parents because that is a good way of making sure they look after us when we need that care. If they approve of our behaviour we are praised for being a good boy or girl, rather than scolded. And that can be a massive hangover in our adult life, where we mirror that behaviour without even being aware of it. Even now, on the day my cleaners have been, I often say, ‘ Look Mummy – my house is clean and tidy like yours always was.’ (The rest of the time of course it’s pretty chaotic – I didn’t exactly adopt the habit!)

Then there are teachers who give us better reports if we behave well. And peer groups who let us be part of the gang if we follow their norms – and these two influences can be quite contradictory!

As we begin to grow up, we do tend to establish our own norms and values, but we often still seek approval, from partners, friends, family, and those we admire.

It is hard to separate out what our true own values are, and which we just try to match for the sake of approval from others.

I do believe I could answer the question as Whoopi Goldberg did, although I had to think it through first! I enjoy and appreciate it when I do get approval from others I love and admire, but it doesn’t drive my behaviour – it’s an added bonus rather than something I aim for.

What about you? Whose approval do you seek?

THE POWER OF ‘KINDNECTION’

Okay, I’ve stolen this word from David Hamilton. He made it up to express the importance of connections of kindness. I love it because it covers so much.

And right now, we are witnessing many acts of kindness on the news, in the midst of the horror of the war in Ukraine. People are doing everything they can and more to help those who are suffering because of the war.

The connections of kindness are both the connections made between humans through kindness, and the connection of kindness to other parts of us. Every kind act, gesture, or even expression has a health benefit for both the giver and the receiver. Kindness calms stress, boosts our immune system, ups our mood, and generally makes us feel better.

And it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can just be being friendly, smiling, listening to someone’s woes. We don’t have to do a lot, and we benefit from doing it – seems obvious, doesn’t it!

I often think that people who are being mean-spirited, unpleasant, unfriendly, must be very unhappy, unhealthy people. After all, if kindness benefits our physical and mental health, surely unkindness does the opposite!

Wouldn’t it be great if the research on this topic were built into our health system and published in the media in different forms, so people took it seriously and actually practised being kind more often!

In the meantime, let’s all remember that small acts of kindness make a big difference to all of us, and keep doing them, even with those mean-spirited people. Maybe they’ll get infected with it.

WILL WE EVER LEARN?

Like most people, I am horrified by what is happening in Ukraine. There is so much historical evidence that wars do not solve problems or end well, yet politics continues to cause wars. And the result is human suffering.

It makes me despair sometimes that we just don’t seem to learn from past mistakes. So what can we do?

Well, we can protest against war, we can do what we can to help those who are the hapless victims of the war, but then what?

We can notice the kindness of people in an emergency: people driving miles to pick up refugees and take them to a safe place, people providing shelter and provisions for those refugees.

We can notice that the president of Ukraine – not a career politician – has not run away and hidden, saved himself. He has stood up for his people, and called out the wrongness of the situation on all sides. So maybe we can have leaders who actually care about something other than their own egos.

And we can notice that large numbers of Russians are prepared to risk imprisonment in order to protest about what their ‘leader’ is doing. They are not the enemy.

It also seems to me that one thing we can do is to make sure we don’t replicate the mistakes of our ‘leaders’ – that we consciously make an effort to learn from our own mistakes, our own miscalculations, our own lack of understanding of other people’s view of the world.

When we know we’ve got it wrong – and we all do know – let’s stop and look at what happened. This is not an exercise in beating yourself up. It is to consider what else we could have done, how we might have approached the situation differently, in order to create a better, more positive outcome. By thinking this through, we make it more likely that, next time we come across a similar situation, we put into practice our revised version of action and show to ourselves that we have learnt from our own history.

It is sad that events like this can happen in our world – pray God, this time there may be some learning from it!

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..

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.

REAL CONVERSATIONS

If I had to choose one thing that I couldn’t do without in my life, it would be real conversations. Depriving myself of that would reduce my quality of life immeasurably.

Etymologically, conversation means we turn with each other. It is where we follow the thread the other sets up and then see where it leads. It requires a curiosity about another’s world and a desire to share. It is so much more than talking or even listening.

There is an inevitability about it leading to more than facts or information – it is always going to be philosophical. By that I mean we will pick up on attitudes to and beliefs about life, work, the world, because we are sharing who we are, not just what we know or do or have.

It has nothing to do with intellect – it is about following our native intelligence, and being prepared to share our hearts with another. It is opening ourselves up and encouraging another to do the same.

These conversations are a part of friendships and close relationships for me. I am lucky to have quite a few people who are always up for a real conversation, and indulge my enjoyment of it.

And then there are those moments when we can also share a real conversation with a stranger, and bring something different into our world. We discover shared passions or interests, and we also explore our differences and gain a greater understanding of different attitudes, cultures and backgrounds, that are not part of our world. It is such a lovely way to learn and grow!

I have recently had two wonderful conversations in this vein with two very different people: one with a very bright successful businessman, and one with a delightful wine grower. I may not ever meet them again, but they have enriched my world by sharing something of themselves with me.

Next time you have the opportunity, prompt a real conversation: offer your stories, talk about what you love, what matters to you, and ask them for their stories in return. People are pretty amazing when you engage them in real conversations.

ASKING FOR HELP

Why do we find it so hard to ask for help? I’ve pondered this question many a time, and not really come up with anything useful. Over the last few months, I’ve come up with a theory that might help, so here goes!

Once upon a time, (not that long ago in our history) we lived in communities where we all helped each other – that’s how we survived. We bartered our skills or strengths for those of other people, and between us we could do more, have a better chance of thriving. Although a generalisation, there is no doubt that cooperation, sharing of abilities, helping each other out, were vital to the development of human culture.

This allowed us to go beyond survival mode, to begin to differentiate between skills, and give some more value than others. This weakened the bargaining power of some and strengthened the bargaining power of others. For example, once everyone knew how to preserve and cook their food, it was no longer a valuable skill. On the other hand, someone who was great at developing useful tools would have a special talent to barter.

So those who had the valued skills didn’t have to ask for help – it was given to them in return for their skills. Only those who were seen as weaker would have to ask for help, and risk being refused or taken advantage of. And although we no longer live in those communities, we have absorbed into our culture the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and leaves us vulnerable. If only we’d absorbed more thoroughly the other part of community living – that cooperation and helping each other out enables us all to thrive!!

So how do we counteract this underlying sense that asking for help shows weakness and makes us vulnerable? The most important thing is to collect evidence that the effect of asking for help is different from that.

If you think of when others have asked you for help, you will notice that, in most instances, it is a pleasure to do so. It feels good to be able to give someone a hand, whether that be just because it’s easier if two of you do it – carrying something heavy – or because it’s something you are good at, and they’re using your skill – checking spelling and grammar in an important document.

And if you think of times when you have asked for help, haven’t people responded positively most of the time?

When we do have negative reactions, either in ourselves or from others, it tends to be for one of two reasons: it feels like a power play, or it feels like someone is taking advantage.

The power play is someone refusing to help or putting major conditions on their help. This does make you feel weak and put down. Taking advantage is when someone is always asking for your help, without ever offering something in return – we feel used.

Now those of us who find it hard to ask for help are never going to come in the latter category! The last thing we’re going to do is to expect constant help in an unbalanced way. We may occasionally come across someone who tries the power play game, in which case we need to ask someone else!

Most of us will be good at offering help, being generous with our time and talents. Let’s not be superman or superwoman though. Then we’re the ones making others feel weak! Asking others for help shows that we also sometimes can’t do it all on our own, it makes us human. And it makes those around us feel valued for what they have to offer. It is that essential trait of human beings, their ability to cooperate and help each other out.

So start collecting your evidence that asking for help generally has a good effect on all concerned. And don’t struggle on, being independent – we all do so much better when we ‘re being interdependent, when we work together.