“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” so goes the golden rule, but do we really understand what the second part of that statement means? Or should there also be a guideline that states “Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you”? Some might say that sounds selfish whereas others may comment that it expresses merit. Although many of us have been taught as children to be “good” to others, the “kindness” factor, the “Do unto…,” somehow seems lacking in that teaching; however, as adults, we learn through practice and experience that being kind is a priceless and not so simple skill.
There are, after all, certain qualities in “being kind” that not only include the idea of “being good” but also go beyond that notion. For example, there’s the aspect of protecting oneself and others unconditionally just as an expectant mother would do so out of love for her baby. Another characteristic of kindness is compassion, an attitude of preventing suffering. Then as we see a part of ourselves or others change from being fearful, for example, into being confident and resolute, the kindness aspect expresses a feeling of appreciative joy, just like a mother praises a child’s achievements in life. A fourth quality in being kind is treating the experience of life’s difficulties with equanimity; that is, not reacting but waiting until our feelings settle into a level that can be managed and then responding to what we’re facing appropriately with clarity, wisdom and nonharming. Patience, an aspect of equanimity, is greatly involved. One final characteristic of kindness must be spoken of here, and that is forgiveness. It means that in being kind we approach all the difficulties we are feeling with the attitude of giving up the suffering of anger and resentment wherever it abides.
Consequently, just as we find that in taking care of our health as a first priority for the sake of ourselves also takes care of others, should it not follow that treating ourselves kindly needs to be a top priority? Many of us have heard and experienced the saying that “what goes around, comes around”, and in the case of being kind to ourselves, it may apply far more profoundly than we know. When we feel, for example, peace within ourselves as a result of approaching our feelings of difficulty with all the aspects of kindness, it often radiates out to those among our family, friends and colleagues when they are experiencing life’s problems with us or others. It’s certainly much easier to interact with them from a feeling of peace. Random acts of kindness,
part of the saying we so often hear and see, comes from the understanding that grows from practicing this level of friendliness with ourselves. For example, a woman in a hospice grief support group I was facilitating in San Antonio, reported that one day while she was feeling a great need to be “listened to”, she found another person on a bus also suffering from sorrow. She expressed her kindness by “listening” to that person and thereby experienced a temporary respite from her own grief. Just in giving “an ear”, she received what she so desperately needed on that day.
Finally, as we lie dying, may we not truly enter and embrace that state of our life with kindness instead of aversion and all of its emotions? As many experts in death and dying say, we feel our life’s forces leaving us one by one, and as they do, approaching the fearful feelings we might have with the practice of kindness could offer us the comfort, wrapped in compassion and unconditional love, we desperately need. Leaving our loved ones behind would not, perhaps, be enveloped in feelings of abandonment but a sensation of affection, whereas any anger and resentment for so-called enemies would have evaporated. And all the while we lie dying, the degree of equanimity we would have developed over the years could hold us in a state of confidence and resolve to let nature take its course, even letting us approach it and what comes next with an attitude of curiosity. Any regret for not having attained what we wanted in life might also have been released. Truly, the dying process is the final test of kindness, for we also have an opportunity to be a model for others.
Learning, therefore, the priceless skill of “kindness” does include and goes quite beyond the idea of “being good to others” that many of us have been taught as youngsters. We understand through our felt experience that using its characteristics in being kind to ourselves first before others makes it a top priority for being kind to others while living and dying. Our world’s leaders would do well to learn the empirical lessons of kindness to oneself before attempting to negotiate peace with others. In conclusion, if we truly wish to experience peace and happiness in our lives, we should try “being kind” to ourselves first.