Part 1 of a hopeful multiPart Series: Exploring the origins and experience of Kindness, Belonging, and collective heart-centered Transformation
By Steve Ray, HBI Advisory Board Member
Steve Ray is a groupwork facilitator who helps groups learn the art of working well together. In the hundreds of groups Steve has facilitated over 15 years, he believes that people’s ability to connect deeply with each other is often limited by their capacity to act with real kindness. He feels that the true potential of kindness to change the world has yet to be realized as disconnection from nature, each other and our own selves has become normalized. He puts forward a challenge that we need to consciously change the way we interact with others and bring kindness into all our relationships to overcome deep unconscious habits that limit the kindness that naturally flows to everyone, everything, everywhere. Explore more…
How can we stay on the side of the Love?
“I have been taught that you have to stay on the side of Love…you do. It’s not easy, but if you allow yourself to be consumed by hatred and anger it will actually disrupt your ability to love even the people who are not your enemies…And then you end up in this place where Love is diminished and when that happens you don’t get to be a full human being.”Brian Stevenson-Human Rights Lawyer
When I first heard these amazing words of Brian Stevenson, I said YES! At last, someone is challenging this notion that we can somehow choose to be both loving some of the time but also hateful at other times and get away with it. This idea that we can firewall the two different ways of living in the world and not interfere with the integrity of our humanity, could conceivably be one of the major reasons for our ongoing drifting as a species away from connection and kindness and towards self-interest and ongoing conflict and separation.
Looking for answers to the question of how we can stay on the side of Love feels like something we need to do as a matter of urgency. At a time when the world is experiencing so much fragmentation and disconnection, kindness seems to be slowly dissolving, becoming a shadow of its former self. As disconnection becomes more commonplace, we instinctively withdraw, to protect ourselves from hurt and the uncertainty of relationships with all but the people we know and love. Even a smile to a stranger on the street is something we do shyly, looking for the response in the person first and then withdrawing if it’s not reciprocated – our kindness so often conditional on the response of others.
While it may be a long bow to draw, it seems entirely possible that kindness could be at the foundation of what’s needed in the creation of a coherent and sustainable world. After all, a world of ecosystem collapse, climate change, and geopolitical upheaval, doesn’t happen by itself. We are suffering from a global epidemic of loneliness, disconnection, trauma, and isolation that is playing out at both the individual and collective levels.
And yet we know that it’s kindness that can nurture us, re-connect us to ourselves and others, and help us to find meaning in our life. Study after study has shown the health benefits of social support and connection; it’s even a better predictor of longevity than our cholesterol levels! From this place of kindness, we are able to be creative, connected and alive in the world. Kindness could be the antidote to healing the brokenness of our planet.
experiencing the feeling and unity of kindness
Kindness is such a humble force starting out as nothing more than a quiet but beautiful feeling within that moves through us and often extends into our thoughts and actions carrying that energy with them. Those moments when someone has really allowed kindness from their hearts to flow through a smile or physical touch or some words, can be experienced as something deep and meaningful by those who receive it. We are touched. It’s a feeling literally beyond the limits of words to capture, but which gives anyone – either the giver or recipient – a tangible reminder of some deeper sense of what it is to be alive.
Even when we receive kindness from a stranger, such as a simple, whole-hearted smile, its effects can be long-lasting. There is some mysterious energetic exchange at work, that helps us feel closer to whoever’s extending kindness in our direction – even if we don’t know them. In such moments a stranger’s kindness reveals that we know each other more than we realized, through our shared humanity. The great mystery of kindness is that it’s almost like a force separate to anything we “do” that somehow flows through us without conscious effort. We cannot invoke it through willpower and yet it will flow without effort as a heart-felt feeling as naturally as breathing. We could say that kindness is spontaneous – it just shows up when the circumstances allow it to.
Kindness is the way we are naturally wired
In his hopeful international bestseller Human Kind, Rutger Bregman makes the case that our primary nature as human beings is kindness, despite the dominant thinking that says the opposite. To that point, according to Online Etymology Dictionary, kind is described as “deliberately doing good to others” which originated from Old English cynde meaning “natural, native innate”. Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and shows that despite the best efforts of some researchers to try and prove that humans’ primary nature is bad, kindness keeps revealing itself as the more probable reality. Perhaps the most astounding example was his discovery of a real-life Lord of the Flies tale (referring to the iconic 1954 young adult novel by William Golding). In the original novel, Golding constructs a story based on the assumption that left to our own devices and without a civilized structure around us, the worst traits will triumph in humans, because at our core, we are rotten.
Lord of the Flies, tells the fictional story of a group of schoolboys, shipwrecked without any surviving adults and their descent into violence and disarray (which was at least partly based on Golding’s personal experience with the violence and brutality of World War II). Bregman, disturbed by the assumption, actually tracked down a real-life equivalent story where young Samoan boys who had taken the day off from school and had borrowed their fathers fishing vessel, got caught out in a storm and were eventually shipwrecked on a deserted island for almost two years. When they were finally found, it was discovered that they had constructed a very civil, organized and compassionate culture on the island, totally debunking the assumptions of Golding and so many others.
so, What Derails or Short-circuits our Native Kindness?
This story along with the evidence and other real-life examples that Bregman uncovers, strongly points in the direction that kindness is in fact our primary nature, not the opposite. While he makes the case for native kindness, there are still some important fundamental questions:
- Why are we unkind…well, when we are?
- What are the conditions when this unkindness happens?
- What is causing us to choose to be unkind if kindness is our nature?
It seems that NOT being kind can only happen if and when we actively block our natural process. All we need are a few negative thoughts fueling some negative emotions, and just like that, kindness can quickly disappear! The consequences of not having kindness in the mix of our social interactions and its direct impact on the world we are creating maybe far more significant than we realize.
Are we forgetting the importace of kindness?
Increasingly, we are living lives where disconnection, isolation and aloneness are unfortunately considered normal and accepted part of our daily experience. Additionally, we are bombarded with all kinds of shocking 24-hour media stories, causing us to disengage to protect ourselves from the sensory overload. Because of this, our response is often to turn away from stories that should stir our humanity and cause us to extend kindness, but we no longer have the stamina to do so.
It seems we are becoming more anesthetized to a less kind world; and the great concern is that if we experience life with decreasing kindness, we will simply forget just how vitally important it is. So, how do we reconnect with our innate kindness and in reality, build the kind of world we want to create?
Next, I’ll explore these questions and more in the upcoming installments of our Cultivating Kindness series. Until then, choose kindness!