Learning to Cultivate Kindness in a Disconnected World

Part 2 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…

What is a foundation stone?

foundation stone

In architecture, a foundation stone – also known as a cornerstone or setting stone – is the first stone set in constructing a masonry foundation. Often placed at the corner of a building, all other stones will be set around this reference stone, thus determining the position and orientation of the entire structure. This term, which has deep historical and religious roots as well, also refers to the basic or important principles, ideas, facts, etc. on which something is based. This understanding will be our foundation stone for this post! 😊

The real-world impact of “being a foundation stone”

Like billions of foundation stones, each individual human being living on the planet can be a cornerstone in building a very different world than the one we are living in now. We each have a conscious opportunity to let our innate kindness flow freely, directly impacting the position and orientation of all the other “stones” around us. Seeing our connection in this way allows us to shift our attitude from caring about others out of like, admiration or obligation to caring because we realize that our lives are inextricably linked together. Respected Buddhist author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg describes kindness as “a force of imagination—a whole-hearted, courageous, genuine awareness that we are all connected.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In a world where kindness is always chosen as the setting stone, no environmental catastrophe, war, or violence of any kind could exist, because those things only manifest from damaged, disconnected and fearful foundations. However, for kindness to flow freely at such a level, we would all have to learn how to be kind…to anyone and everyone…in any and every moment. From where we stand today, being kind to everyone all the time might seem like a crazy and impossible thing to do! More tellingly, who would want to do that? After all, why would we or should we be kind to someone, who, for example, is intentionally cruel to us?

Getting back in touch with Kindness

Being kind to anyone and everyone in any and every moment is not a new idea. Kindness is a central and timeless thread uniting the world’s great spiritual teachings. Jesus Christ said, “Love your enemies” and Mahatma Gandhi many centuries later said, “be the change you want to see in the world”. From two very different angles, these words are versions of the same thing—living a life that is not conditional on the responses and distortions of others, but on a higher goal that asks us to lift above our negative emotions and fear-based reactions. We make fear the winner each time we follow it, and from the state of our world, it’s clearly time for us to make a different choice. When we experience another’s cruelty toward us, whether through intentional harm or damaging carelessness and disregard, it reshapes and disorients us, and we begin to believe and respond from that distorted self-view.

From her book The Force of Kindness: Change Your Life with Love & Compassion, Salzberg shares:

To get back in touch with kindness is to get back in touch with our own bigger, vibrant, more expansive potential instead of being defined by the limited, biased vision others put upon us...Even if we are encountering cruelty, we must try to understand its roots and determine not to be the same as those acting it out. We must determine not to simply keep perpetrating the forces of separation and disregard. If we don’t make that effort, what will we really have accomplished? 

It’s Time to tell ourselves a new story!

There is no question that we all have the capacity to be kind. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we pick and choose who and what we are kind to depending on whether we like, trust, agree with, or otherwise believe that the person or thing deserves our kindness. We treat kindness as if it’s something we dole out as some kind of reward, like it’s ours to give or not give…not as a natural gift that should flow from us because that’s the way we are wired.

The truth is, we withhold kindness more than we let it flow. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about why it’s okay to not be kind. Why aren’t we telling ourselves other stories?

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

Instead, what if we told ourselves a story like this:

That person I’m not being kind to might be so disconnected from their own heart that they no longer feel anything, no longer remember what it means to be kind. For them, being unkind or cruel doesn’t seem wrong anymore. What if I were to overcome my judgement of their behavior and realize that at their core, they too have a heart and that I have a chance to help them open and reawaken it, so they begin to remember what kindness is and just how connected to each other we really are.

Now, wouldn’t that be something worth doing? How does it make sense not to be kind to anyone if there is a chance that our being kind helps them choose to be kind to someone else? This is why “random acts of kindness” are so powerful—because kindness should not be done for any reason, other than because it’s the only thing that makes sense if we want to live in a connected and loving world.

So, here’s where the real work begins for us all – to shift deep-seated below-the-conscious mind habits that stop us from letting kindness flow. It’s real work because we have to admit that these reactive and limiting patterns lie not just in others, but deep within ourselves as well. Only then can we truly be a foundation stone for others.

Next, I’ll be exploring forgiveness, rejection and the longing to belong in the next installment of our Cultivating Kindness series. Read Part 1 if you missed it!