Saturday, December 25, 2010

Aspiring to Kindness

“Guard well within yourself that treasure: kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.” - George Sand, French novelist
There are many movies and TV shows that I choose not to watch, not merely because of their genre. Horror films and most vampire movies just aren’t my thing. And as much as my husband and daughter enjoy Dexter about a serial killer who kills horrible people, I can’t quite wrap my sensibilities around a TV series featuring a serial killer of any stripe. But the most overriding reason that I choose not to watch certain films or shows is because they are mean-spirited.
I’m not a goody two shoes by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. I have my share of angry, vengeful thoughts about people who have done me or my family wrong or who are just plain stupid in the face of chances to do helpful rather than hindering things. Hubby Herb and I often say, “Where is a firestarter when you need one,” referring to Drew Barrymore’s child star turn in a 1984 film called Firestarter. I have to admit it’s fun to imagine throwing fireballs with my mind and satisfying to think of them hitting their marks.
But mean-spirited behavior as an excuse for comedy turns me off. I do not find the Mrs. Doubtfire’s of the world endearing under any circumstances. Excusing and forgiving bad behavior in a film or novel can be justified when the writing brings you to a denouement deriving from the conversion experiences of the protagonists. That journey is worth following, sometimes even inspiring. However, excusing bad behavior because it’s presented as endearingly comedic just leaves me cold. I don’t get it. Why is bad behavior in the form of making someone else’s life miserable, causing them tons of trouble, supposed to endear the perpetrator to the observer?
I can no longer remember the triggering event, or even if there was one, in my early thirties that caused me to decide to become a good person. I hadn’t been a bad person before that period, but I experienced a rebirth of sorts, a metanoia, where I made a decision to walk down a path that I called “being a good person.” For me, that transition was about a reordering of my life priorities. My emphases changed, and my life opened up. It was in that time period that I stopped having specific goals in my life about achieving more, like getting married again (this was B.H., before Herb) or targeting a rung on the career ladder.
I had somehow refocused on being in the moment. And the psychic space around me opened up into a universe of possibilities. The opportunities for dating and the suitors knocking on my door multiplied. My interactions with my staff and customers blossomed into mentoring relationships and long-term friendships. Perhaps the universe of possibilities had always been there, and I only needed emotionally to stand still and feel safe long enough to smell the proverbial roses. I think one way of looking at that time period might be to say that I had embraced, in the Buddhist tradition, an attitude of lovingkindness and mindfulness towards myself.
The very first lesson I ever learned from Ani Pema Chödrön was an admonition to stop doing violence to oneself, to stop the seemingly endless negativity towards oneself of girls with well developed guilt reflexes. Lovingkindness begins with the self and empowers the individual to expand it out into the world. Emotional security is about feeling safe not just from outside influences that scare and harm, but also from internal thoughts that do the same. I’m still not very good at lovingkindness to myself, and I need regular reminders.
A few years ago, I had lost (or had stolen) a new pair of expensive prescription glasses and a camera used for work and couldn’t bring myself to get past punishing myself by not replacing them. I was telling my priest that story one Sunday when he, very seriously, said to me, “You’re forgiven, Lee,” making the sign of the cross before me, “now go get yourself a new pair of glasses.” I’m so grateful when the people around me remind me that I am forgiven, that I am entitled to kindness in my life, and that it’s when I experience kindness towards me that I can then extend kindness towards everyone else.
I used to aspire to being known as smart. Now, I’m delighted when someone says that I’m kind. I’ll take kindness over being smart every time.

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