Kindness is NOT a Bad Word

Kindness isn’t an ally of foolishness or gullibility, but rather an ally of wisdom and courage.

I found this quote from  Sharon Salzberg over on the Beliefnet and found it a useful reminder to plod on in my kindness evangalism.  There have been times when I have said the word kindness that I have seen people roll their eyes, anticipating something unpleasant or perhaps automatically pegging me as flaky or whatever.  When did the word Kind come to represent a concept that is worthy of eye rolls?  When did the concept of kindness become a synonym for weakness or flakiness or something inappropriate to discuss?

I like to think that only goodness can come from an act of kindness.  Cultivating kindness at work makes us better at our jobs.

Mopefest 2009: Are you blue?

Photo: Megan Ann

Photo: Megan Ann

It’s been a mopefest around here.  The headlines are depressing.  Our customers have seemed stressed and sadder than usual.  We have sadness in our ranks for various personal reasons.  I’ve been moping around myself.  I actually took a personal day on Monday just to sleep (long story).

How do I best serve the public when the general consensus is sadness?  How do we bear witness to their problems (as many are eager to share) without it taking the shine off of our own attitudes?  A question about getting a vistitor’s pass to the internet turns into a story about trying to apply for a job online though the person has never used a computer.  What seemed like a skill of convenience last year (learning how to surf the internet), now all of sudden seems like a necessity.

And all the people trooping in to apply for unemployment though they have little internet experience.  The number of people asking for advice is way up: what form should I use?  How do I answer this question? How long will this take?  And yet, they ask questions we can’t answer.  We can refer them to free tax help, social services, job search workshops, even our own in house drop in job search tutoring sessions; but, it is little solace in that moment.

I’ve been asking myself these questions lately because I can feel the sadness when I enter the library lately.  Job loss, sickness, death hangs in the air and even the most patient of the staff seem kind of short and grouchy.

In Buddhism there is a form of meditation called Metta, sometimes translated as “loving-kindness.”  It is a practice that has the meditator cultivating loving kindness first for themselves, then a loved one, then a neutral party, then someone they struggle with and finally all beings.  I’ve been in groups where someone has questioned the first part of this practice.  Why focus on ourselves first?  Isn’t this selfish?  Shouldn’t we be praying for others?  Each time the teacher has talked about caring for one’s self first so that you will be most able to send loving kindness and compassion out into the world.  One teacher likened it to being on a plane when the oxygen masks drop.  You always put yours on first so that you may help others.

I think about this now.  Taking care of my physical and mental health in these times of stress will enable me to be able to help people at work and listen harder to those in my life.  Taking care of me helps me spread more compassion, more love, more kindness when it is needed most.  There are many forms of this “prayer” that can be said.  I would like to share with you the one I say.  It is one that my ex-partner wrote on a piece of paper and hung next to my hospital bed while I was recovering from a scooter accident.  I know she said it a million times for me and having it there with me reminded me to not only have loving kindness for myself; but, also those around me who were suffering with the worry of having a loved one injured.

May you be happy.

May you be free from physical pain.

May you be free from mental pain.

May you live your life with ease.

Kindness in Action

Today my coworker was at the reference desk and a woman slowly approached the desk. She asked if we had a certain video. My coworker looked it up, informed her that it was a children’s video and located in the children’s department.

Facts: The customer was slow moving and seemingly having difficulty moving. She was a larger woman; but, did not have a cane or any other implements.

Facts: Standard practice is to direct customers to the children’s department where there is another librarian who could serve her.

Reality: My coworker informed her that the video was in the kid’s department, offered to fetch it for her and when the customer accepted her offer, my coworker went around the reference desk and pulled a chair out from a study table, so the customer could sit down.

This was not just excellent customer service. This was service delivered with kindness and from the heart. How many people would have responded the way this librarian did?

Sharon Salzberg on Kindness

Kindness Handbook

I just started reading The Kindness Handbook by Sharon Salzburg.  On the very first page I’m encouraged:

It takes boldness, even audacity, to step out of our habitual patterns and experiment with a quality like kindness …… Kindness can manifest as compassion, as generosity, as paying attention.

In just that first paragraph there are two concepts presented that are mind blowing and I believe the key to change.

1.  That we can “experiment” with kindness by stepping beyond habit is such a lovely idea.  I love the word experiment.  Sometimes making changes like this can seem like you are taking on the largest project and one that is unending in its burden.  But, by using the word experiment you avoid committment which I think is fine.  You try different things.  Perhaps one day you muster up just a little bit more patience for a difficult customer.  Maybe one day, you choose to treat yourself with a little bit more kindness.  Maybe you extend a kindness to a coworker, share your snack or inquire about something that has been troubling them.

2.  That kindness can “manifest” as “paying attention.”  I love, love, love this idea.  This is exactly what I mean when I suggest that we refrain from using our cell phones while checking out at the cashier.  By paying attention, being more present, we are offering that person a kindness.  I would have never put it that way; but, it resonates with me.

I read one of Sharon Salzburg’s previous books, Lovingkindness, several years ago and it has been a book that I return to and read certain passages over and over.  It is so important to keep thinking about kindness: how we express it and how we receive it.

Manners 2.0: Cultivating Common Courtesy in a Digital World

What is it about the embracing of emerging technologies that has allowed people to abandon common courtesies? Last year, I worked in retail and I was astonished at the sheer number of people who thought it was perfectly fine to conduct a retail transaction while talking on the phone. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a younger generation phenomenon, I can tell you that I was equally surprised by the diversity in age of the offending customers. Let me tell you a story of one clueless customer. We had one public restroom. You know where I’m going with this right?

A customer approached me to say that someone had been in the bathroom an unusual amount of time and could I check on her. I had actually walked past the bathroom several minutes prior to this and noticed that someone was in there talking on their phone. I remember thinking: who talks on their phone while they’re in a gross public bathroom?

So, of course, she is still in there talking loud enough for the 5 people waiting for the bathroom to hear her, word for word. If she thought talking in the restroom provided some sort of privacy she was wrong. I knocked loudly on the door. There was a moment of silence and then, “Uh oh, I think people want to get in here.” We all stood there and listened to some mysterious noises and finally the door opened. A woman in her 60s emerged and said, “Sorry,” put the phone to her ear and continued her conversation. The customers started clapping and the incident was over.

Clearly, cell phones, social networking and other web 2.0 tools have changed the way we interact with one another; but, can’t we also carry with us some traditional concepts of courtesy? I think so. I’ve created a very basic list of rules to follow when navigating in the digital world.

Rules of Respect 2.0

1. Set your phone to vibrate when in a public place where there is an expectation of quiet: hospitals, libraries, coffee shops where people are working on laptops are just a few examples. You might also lower the ringer when in any indoor public place. There is a general annoyance when you hear someone’s obnoxiously loud ringtone no matter where you are.

2. Turn your phone off when you are on a date, eating dinner with your family, hanging out with friends, basically when you are engaged with other humans in a business or social arena. If you are waiting for an important call/txt or email or need to be on call, let your companions know that you may need to excuse yourself.

3. If you receive a formal invitation to something like a wedding, rsvp via snail mail. Don’t send a text, email or IM, unless the hosts have indicated that sort of response is acceptable.

4. If you need to speak or listen to another person, remove your headphones/earbuds. Keep the volume of your portable devices low enough that others around you can’t hear them.

5. Txting and surfing during class is rude and although you may be confidant in your multitasking abilities, you are probably not digesting all that the professor says.

This is just a beginning list. I’ll probably add more as this blog goes on.

My friend told me  a digital date from hell story.  She recently went on a first date with a woman and her date checked her Blackberry several times throughout their meal and actually responded to a txt message as they were walking down the sidewalk.  The thing that most struck me about this was that this person is not being fully present in her life. And I surely don’t want to date someone who isn’t even fully present on the first date. You can use this same scale when dealing with the store clerk, the gas station attendant and others you come in contact with. Turn off your devices, acknowledge this other human that is in your life. You can check your texts, talk to your friend, surf the internet in just a moment.