Be kind whenever possible, and it’s always possible.
It’s pretty hard to argue with this—especially when you consider the source—
The Dalai Lama seems like a genuinely happy human being. He seems to have reached a level of contentment and inner-peace that few, if any, of us human beings ever reach.
And so if being kind always is an integral part of this, then it would seem foolish not really consider deeply what he says and really reflect on it. If practicing kindness (always) might lead to an exceptional level of happiness and peace of mind and tranquility, then why not really try it? What do I—or you, or any of us—have to lose?
This is something that I wrestle with often—how kind to be, versus how truthful to be.
Truth hurts and stings, sometimes. And so there is usually a tension between comfort and truth, between what we feel or perceive to be kind and what is truthful—
“Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps (of life / reality) only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”
– M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 50-51
When it comes to the choice between truth and comfort, truth and kindness, I’ve made my choice. I’m a philo-sophia—a lover of wisdom and truth, first and foremost. I prefer truth and directness. If you can communicate truth to me kindly, then by all means do so. But if I’m being defensive, then perhaps adding a little (or more) unkindness to the mix is warranted.
Because you may in fact be doing me an even greater kindness, even though at the time my ego will not think so and will likely protest.
But most people are not like this. Instead of being philo-sophias—lovers of wisdom and dedicated to truth—they are philo-chrestotes and philo-parakaleō—lovers of kindness, much, much more dedicated to comfort and ease than to truth and real growth.
Rumi wrote, “Unkindness from the wise is better from kindness from the ignorant.” And I agree. I think there is something a bit more important than kindness. And that is Love and Truth.
If you don’t know what the right thing to do or to say is when you’re disagreeing with someone, then choose to try to be kind and do no harm.
If you see a speck in another’s eye, then try at first to remove it as kindly as possible.
And if that doesn’t work, then make a choice, pick your battle; and if you decide to proceed with attempting to remove the speck/wooden beam from the eye of someone with a closed-mind, then best of luck, try a little kindness, try something a bit more over the top, incendiary, shocking. It may work. Or it may not.
Or, perhaps better yet, try a story or a parable, and see if the person who seems to be psychologically blind can take the hint and make the connection for him- or herself (instead of ramming it down his/her throat).
I tend to prefer the direct / straightforward approach. But most people aren’t built that way. At least not yet. Meaning, if we are to truly evolve and mature as human being, then this is one of the areas we as a species will likely have to improve much in—being more genuinely dedicated to truth and able to engage in direct and honest conversations where we are willing and able to examine our own views as rigorously as we examine another’s.
So one of the first principles of being dedicated to truth is seeking first to understand—making sure you understand (as best as you can) the other person’s point of view.
But then what to do if you see / determine that the other person’s ideas and point of view are harmful to self- and or others (or just some really really bad advice)?
How do you disagree? How do you speak “your truth” after someone else has spoken hers/his “truth” and you’re fairly certain that “your truth” will be at odds with the other person’s?
How do you “hold the space” and still disagree?
But if kindness doesn’t work, or if being straightforward is misinterpreted as being harsh and judgmental (by pros at tone and content, by really really evolved people who are nonjudgmental and pros at “holding the space”—we’re talking the Michael Jordans of emotional safe space holding), then how is one to speak to such people in such a situation?
Do you double down from the top down on kindness?
Or do you continue on being as civil and truthful and direct as possible?
Or do you go for the gusto and opt for unkindness in the form of sarcasm, pointedness, et cetera.
Chögyam Trungpa (and Ken Wilber) talks about “Idiot Compassion”—
“Idiot compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good. . . . Of course [according to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism], you should do everything for everybody; there is no selection involved at all. But that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be gentle (or presumably nice or kind) all the time. Your gentleness should have heart, strength. In order that your compassion doesn’t become idiot compassion (or idiot kindness, or idiot niceness), you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence of thinking that you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person’s aggression. If you go to a shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn’t seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others.”
Of course it’s not a very healthy thing to do for humankind in general, because as he did to you he’ll do to others. People who cheat or who exploit others or who have certain unsavory traits and tendencies generally don’t get that way by accident. They are the way they are because perhaps no one has stood up to them before or really gone the distance in opposing them and standing up for what’s right. Remember that saying of Edmund Burke—“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”? Or all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for people to not be very discerning in regards to what the larger effects of their kindness and niceness or gentleness might be.
And even the Dalia Lama himself wrote (in “How to Expand Love,” pg. 202):
“Analyze each situation to determine what will help. Even poison is known to counteract certain problems.”
And then he goes on immediately to quote what Nagarjuna (a second or third century Buddhist sage and the founder of the Mahayana Buddhism) says in his “Precious Garlands of Advice”—
“Even give poison to those whom it will help.
But do not give even the best food to those whom it will not help.
The Buddha said that if it helps others,
You should even bring temporary discomfort.”
The second line sounds a lot like what Jesus said/advised about not throwing pearls before swine, or what is often said in Buddhist circles about not lending weapons to a thief (to the ego).
I read this on another blog that I follow–
So here we are…the end of the world supposedly. The world may not have ended today, but sometimes it feels like we are not that far off. Humanity needs help. It needs to evolve to something bigger and more loving. We need to focus on what binds us together, not the things that tear us apart. We need a re-birth of sorts. If we do not, we will surely destroy each other and our planet.
I just came across this quote from Richard Rohr which feels timely.
The rifts and chasms between good people today sometimes seem impossible to bridge. Let’s just name a few obvious ones: male versus female, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus non-Christian, “Pro-Choice” versus “Pro-Life,” the overdeveloped world versus the underdeveloped world, renew-from-within versus change-from-without, straights versus gays, hierarchy versus laity, whites versus people of color—and every shade of every issue in between.
We are all crowded on one limited planet and must somehow learn to live together while also maintaining the common earth beneath our six billion pairs of feet. Sometimes I wonder if it is going to be this very common earth that we all stand on and eat from that will be the only thing that will be able to bring us together.
And the following was my response:
Love can definitely help get us out of this, but the problem is is that there will be as many versions of and ideas about Love as there are people.
And realistically there will be those who will make “love” into this warm, fuzzy, impotent concept that is castrated and basically equates to (is coterminous with) kindness, compassion, tenderness, and none of (arguably) the other part (not half, but certainly part) of Love—discernment, courage, grit, et cetera.
As (Walt) Whitman wrote:
There are who teach only the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.
There’s a lot of Love in those words.
And there’s also a lot of love and wisdom to be found in the idea that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” (Edmund Burke).
There’s something to be said about combining wisely what Martin Luther King Jr. describes as a tough mind and a tender heart–balancing the two sides of love–heart and mind, wisdom and sentiment. (It’s a great essay/sermon—King’s “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.” One I’ve been intending to excerpt and post.)
In my experience a lot of disagreement goes away if people learn how to think critically, not only about the other person’s words and ideas and point of view, but about their own.
In my opinion and experience too many people are of the let’s agree to disagree type–they espouse kindness, love (lowercase l), nonjudgmentalness, and if you are unkind to them or critical of something they are doing or saying, then they become irrationally judgmental and unkind.
What the world needs, in my opinion, are more people who are dedicated not only to the heart, but also to the head–to truth, wisdom, learning, growing, conscience. People who instead of saying “let’s agree to disagree,” are guided by “it’s not who’s right but what’s right.” To me there’s a lot more Love (capital L) in that view, but it’s a tough view. It challenges us and our emotional reptilian brain a lot. It takes years of working out and exercising our prefrontal cortex to get it up to speed and to strengthen it enough so that it’s actually able to provide a check and balance to our limbic system (reptilian brain).
I think that as long as our emotions–the heart alone–is running the show, then agree to disagree will be the best we can do, and we’ll be unkind to those who we perceive as being unkind to us (but who might actually be being very very truthful with us).
And I think that this is the way it is for most people who self-improvement and new-age circles–it’s all about the heart, and the head/mind is just an appendage of the heart.
And I think that the vast majority of people are this way–their limbic system (reptilian brain) dominates their thinking and behavior, and let’s agree to disagree is the best they can do, because ego and pride and shame and fear dominate their thinking; so instead of being unbiased, dedicated to truth and reality and growing, and what’s right instead of who’s right, they’re still stuck at the level of ego instead of a more self-actualize and self-transcending way of thinking.
And I think that for the world to evolve, we have to evolve beyond this non-self-transcending limbic-centered way of thinking to something more integrated and whole-brained and self-transcending, a level of thinking where our prefrontal cortex is at least equal to our heart, and we can see beyond our own point of view (what’s right, not who’s right).
As Einstein said,
“The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them“
“The significant problems we face can not be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.“
The problems we face today seem arguably to be a result of a lot of reptilian / limbic-based thinking. When our thinking focuses more on integrity, self-awareness, self-confronting, self-monitoring, objectivity, conscience, being unbiased, not always favoring ourselves and our ego–in other words, on combining the best of both heart and head–then maybe we’ll have a different and truly more harmonious society where we’re able to really discuss and critically analyze and evaluate our differences, instead of just reacting to them and letting our reptilian brain and ego-based thinking have a heyday with them.
Thoughts? (Kind or unkind)
- C. S. Lewis on Love & Kindness (and the difference between the two) (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Re-birth 2012 (servingothersblog.com)
- Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible” The DalaiLama (pocketperspectives.wordpress.com)
- Kindness (appliedalliance.wordpress.com)
- Give the Gift of Kindness (letlifeinpractices.com)