Anyone who follows me knows by now that kindness is always at the top of my “to-be list.” I have written many times on the power of kindness, how it can transform a moment; an entire day; an entire life. The kabbalists have taught, in so many ways, that if we aimed each day only for kindness, it would be the only spiritual practice we need.
I like to reiterate, though, that kindness isn’t “being nice.” It isn’t being a “good person” or someone everyone likes. In fact, when practicing the type of kindness I’m referring to, “being liked” has nothing to do with it, and, very often, doesn’t even come with the territory. Radical kindness means extending kindness to everyone. Radical kindness means being kind no matter what. It looks like staying open when you want to close; suspending judgment when it feels almost impossible not to judge. It means being curious instead of reactive.
If you’re reading this you may be agreeing and thinking, “I’m a kind person!” And while I’m sure that you are, I’ll challenge you a bit. Would you offer the same level of kindness you give to your friends to, say, a complete stranger? Taking it a step further would you be able to stand before someone charged with a terrible crime, a person from your past who hurt you, or someone who hurt someone you loved and offer them kindness? Would you be able to offer kindness to someone who held extreme, maybe even violent, political, and ideological views?
That’s what New College of Florida student Matthew Stevenson did when he invited a fellow student over to his dorm room for a Shabbat dinner. The student was Derek Black, an heir to a white power group. He had been outed as the son of a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, and as word spread across campus, Stevenson saw many people treating Derek poorly in what he describes as, “misguided attempts to change the situation.” Instead of joining in, Derek just sent a text asking, “What are you doing this Friday night?” That one night turned into a long-lasting friendship.
This pair of friends has been interviewed many times by many outlets, but the interview they gave on On Being with Krista Tippet illustrates so well the alchemical nature of kindness:
Derek: I learned from my experience at New College that I had opposed inclusion and advocated separation because I didn’t empathize with people who weren’t part of my in-group. What changed was feeling that people who were not in my in-group were being negatively impacted by my actions and that I should care about that.
Matthew: Associating with people who share the same worldview and opinions you have may be psychologically pleasing, but you risk losing empathy for those who disagree with you. I am hopeful that the underlying spark of goodness, this empathy that’s within each and every one of us, will win out in the long run.
Being kind to those who are like us, who agree with us, and who we think “deserve it” isn’t enough. It takes courage to extend the type of kindness Matthew Stevenson offered Derek Black because there was no promise that it would go well. It took courage because listening to perspectives that are “hateful” is triggering and choosing curiosity over-reactivity isn’t easy. Sitting across the table from someone who once held the capacity to hurt you and everyone like you and to offer that person empathy takes courage. If their friendship is any indicator, it is this courageous kindness that transformed years of ingrained thought patterns and beliefs. And all it took was a text and a dinner invitation.
We are all capable of this radical, transformative kindness, and we are living in a time where this kindness is not only called for but desperately needed.
As you move through your life, when you have the opportunity to be kind; be kind. When you have the opportunity to give; give. And I don’t mean simply sharing or giving because we all have the capability to give to somebody, and we all have the ability to share. The question is, are you feeling it in your heart? Are you truly wanting to be kind, to give, to share? When you feel closed in your heart, when you are withholding, when you can feel that you are holding back, practice opening up.
You’ll know these opportunities when they arise. You’ll feel the tension, the impulse to respond from anger or frustration, and instead, try taking a breath. If holding back a nasty comment and removing yourself from the situation is all you can do, you will have chosen kindness. If saying nothing and offering a smile is all you can do, you will have practiced kindness. If just listening is all you can do, you will have practiced kindness.
The next time you have the opportunity to be kind, to give, or to share, do it. Open your heart and keep it open, open your hands and keep them open, and move through your days full of love because it is always worth it. And as my favorite saying goes, “treat everyone with kindness, even if they are rude to you, not because they are kind, but because you are.”
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Is there someone in your life you have been withholding your kindness from? Why? How can you begin to practice “kindness no matter what” with them and with everyone else in your life? Listen to their full interview with Krista Tippet here.
Michael and I are excited to interview Matthew Stevenson at the New Moon of Pisces 2 event tonight, March 6th in New York City at 7:00 pm. Click here to live stream.