Thursday, August 21, 2008
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -- Maya Angelou
Who do we touch in our lives? How do others feel having passed through our space, for a moment or more? Do we even realize the power simple acts of kindness can have on the world around us? The shared smile with a stranger. That gesture of grace towards the harried mom, the confused traveler, the bored deli slave or toll taker. It all matters.
We might speak of compassion, but what does that actually mean?
I recently heard the Dalai Lama speak in Aspen, as part of a Tibetian Cultural Festival. I am not religious, nor even a follower of Buddhist teachings, yet this funny little man put it so right as he spoke.
First, with great reverence, he was greeted into a spacious tent, large, airy, festooned with flags that children had created for the occasion. He then unlaced his shoes and settled, cross-legged into an oversized cozy chair. A translator sat at his side but was rarely needed for the next several hours as His Holiness spoke at random of things great and small.
Questions had been collected from audience members and a few were posed. One woman asked, "Why do I feel compassion for my dog, yet I can't stand my family?"
So, yet again, one reviews semantics. What is this compassion thing we speak of? Is it pity? Sympathy? Condolence? The whole concept can veer into a negative realm. We might see ourselves responding in less than healthy ways. Do we give our dollars and time to ease our guilt of having "more" than someone else? Do we exhaust ourselves in a selfless mode, only to feel dried up and spent? Giving, giving. All in the name of "compassion"?
The Dalai Lama drew our attention to the key concept of respect, because that is really what it all boils down to. Respect in the sense of caring, of regarding others as living, feeling beings with similar thoughts and concerns. Respect in the sense of sharing the grace that one feels, knowing we all are here together.
And, most importantly..... this all sprouts from one's self. Look after yourself. Not the cute puppy, not that raspy neighbor lady that always needs a favor, not that troubled cousin or friend or meter maid, but the self. This is the origin of all the care and share in the first place. Feed it.
Susan Smalley, founder of the Mindful Awareness Research Center, reminds us of the need to nourish ourselves, first and foremost.
"Becoming aware of how you treat yourself is key to seeing how you relate to others."
His Holiness also reminded us of the appropriate hierarchy of care. It starts with the self, always. It has to.
Get good with that, then our next level of tending goes towards our family. Common proverb: "Blood is thicker than water."
Then from there, the care flows outward to the community. Schools, neighbors, friends....that's where you go next.
And from there, the world.
Occasionally situations arise, beyond our control.....you are committed to volunteer at the local shelter and your child comes down with a fever. You must drive an elderly parent to an appointment yet you feel lousy. This happens. And of course one does what one must. But in a perfect world, it is not selfish to regard the self as the first in line.
Only from there can the love spread. And without love, we perish.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation