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Why Be Mean – When You Can Be Kind?

October 24, 2018

By Mary Brantley, MA, LMFT

As Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Meanness is not new! It’s just that now acts of maliciousness can move through the world at lighting speed. Hatefulness can spread like a California forest fire and be out of control within minutes.

The power of the internet and the speed of the world news is such we can receive information instantly, even if the information is not accurate but hurtful or demeaning. The truth can begin to look like an American flag in a hurricane — beat up and tattered.

When meanness is expressed, it begins to take on a life of its own. We may not know if certain information is valid, but if it gets repeated enough and is convincing enough, the truth can get lost. It is not any one person’s fault. We all contribute to the cycle of information one way or another. Perhaps for some of us, it is without even realizing how we keep it going.

Once a statement goes viral there is no stopping it, and often we lose the ability to tell if it is correct or not. When information is consciously put out to destroy someone, it doesn’t take much these days to make that happen. When we say something to someone that is hurtful we can apologize, but we can’t unsay it. Similarly, we do not always understand the ripple effect of our actions and how they may create pain and sorrow for ourselves and others.

What we think about, how we talk to ourselves, and how we treat others are things we constantly do. They are constantly being practiced. Just like playing a musical instrument or training in a sport, the more we do it the better we are at it. What we practice becomes a habit!

There is an old legend of unknown origin, often attributed to a Cherokee grandfather, teaching his grandson a life lesson. It is a story about two wolves.

“A fight is going on inside me,” the grandfather said to his grandson.

”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The Cherokee grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The thoughts and behaviors we feed, practice, turn toward, and act out are a mirror to our inner would.

What does it mean to live in unshakeable kindness?

Kindness has a lot to teach us! It is not unusual when people hear the word kindness they think of someone who is passive, a wallflower, someone who doesn’t know how to set boundaries. Kindness is not pulled by likes and dislikes, by friends and enemies. Boundless kindness has its roots in compassion. It may bring us joy to temper meanness, and it can bring balance into our hearts and minds through patience and steadiness.

It is easy to overlook the power of kindness or misunderstand it. It is also easy to think that a meditation which develops kindness is not as important as other meditations. In Galway Kinnnell’s poem “St. Francis and the Sow,” he wrote the line “to reteach a thing its loveliness.” Most of us don’t think about cultivating our loveliness; we think more about what we don’t like about ourselves. Our inner critic can wreak havoc on our self image.

Kindness may come naturally to some, but not to everyone.

The good news is it can be learned and cultivated. It may become a quality of strength and bring inner peace that allows us to live in the world and respond to things without fear and hesitation. We can think about practicing kindness as planting seeds. We set the stage to let kindness grow. Just as with tending a garden, we prepare the soil, put the seeds in the ground, water, keep a persistent eye on the garden, and just when we think nothing is happening, we begin to see the forces of nature.

The process takes awareness, attention and time, but the rewards are great.

The rewards of a meditation practice are also great. A meditation practice that speaks to qualities of kindness, generosity, forgiveness and compassion is called Loving Kindness Mediation.

As Sharon Salzberg, who has been teaching and practicing loving kindness for more than thirty years, says “The key to practicing loving kindness is recognizing that all human beings want to be part of something fulfilling or meaningful; that we are all vulnerable to change and loss.” Loving kindness meditation allows us to use our own pain and the pain of others as a vehicle for connection rather than isolation. The invitation of loving kindness is to learn to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of criticism. Sometimes loving kindness comes in the form of compassion in response to pain and suffering, our own or others. Loving kindness sometimes comes in the form of sympathetic joy, the ability to be happy in the good fortune of others. Lastly loving kindness is an invitation of equanimity, to abide in being calm in the midst of conflict.

Consider Joining our Upcoming Cultivating Kindness Program!

Meditation practices based in loving kindness can create a place of mental and emotional space, an opportunity to breathe, and foster greater compassion for yourself and others.

In this 8 week program, you will learn to step out of the fray and into the present moment with joy that can help you cope with a stress-inducing environment.

Bring meditation practices teaching kindness, compassion, joy and balance into your busy life, helping to cultivate happiness and promote well-being. To learn more about this program or to register, visit our website.

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