Saturday, August 16, 2014

Kindness in the news

We crave stories of kindness. How else can you explain why a photo of a grocery store worker tying an elderly man's shoelace goes viral?

There are scary things happening all around the world today, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Iran and Syria and, seemingly, everywhere.

But there are also good things happening. Often those things are small actions performed by an individual -- like the grocery clerk -- while the scary things are big, like thousands of people trapped on a mountain or an angry crowd facing police cloaked in padded gear.

If you look only at the big things, it's easy to be overwhelmed by anger and despair.

If you look only at the small things, you can become a delusional Pollyanna, radically accepting the status quo when wisdom sees that the situation needs to change.

To me, Buddhist teachings often come back to balance -- finding the pivot point that holds the awareness that people and the situations they create are both kind and mean, avoiding the traps of despair and elation, seeing the good and how to mobilize it to work with the bad.

Anger is a contagion. It spreads in a flash. When met with anger, it roils and builds.

When met with kindness, it dissipates. The situation in Ferguson changed dramatically when the militarized police were taken out of the equation. Hugs replaced hate when highway patrol officers with visible faces and no body armor took over from the padded, helmeted local police.

Of course, the situation is more complicated than that in Ferguson and there are many things to be looked at and addressed. It's impossible to do that in the confusion of anger, which locks everyone into their own view.

Robin Williams' death also stirred up lots of emotions this week, not just grief but anger and hurt over the comments around suicide, addiction, and depression. And it brought stories of his great kindness behind the scenes, like this tribute from Norm Macdonald.

Kindness is all around. When you practice metta, you train your mind to notice it. And you train yourself to respond kindly. Practice in meditation is all about training your reflexes to respond in the post-meditation world.

Kindness is contagious. Here is a story, a true poem, by Naomi Shahib Nye, of what kindness can do. It's describes what happens at an airport gate during a flight delay when passengers and crew became a community rather than adversaries:

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This 
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that 
gate--once the crying of confusion stopped--seemed apprehensive about 
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other
women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

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