“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” (Mother Teresa)
We’re all familiar with the concept of random acts of kindness. Strangers dart around dropping quarters in expired parking meters, buying coffee for the person behind them in line, or holding doors open. These random acts of kindness are wonderful—and make for a better world—but they only scratch the surface of the power of kindness.
Kindness doesn’t need to be reserved for strangers nor does it need to be random. Of course, random acts of kindness are fun and provide a momentary uplift for both the giver and the receiver, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where kindness was the norm rather than the exception?
Rather than reserving kindness for the stranger behind you at the tollbooth, what about embracing kindness as a spiritual practice? Developing an intentional, ongoing spirit of kindness in your daily life will bless the lives of those around you—and you’ll find that you are different because of it.
Kindness is characterized by a mild, pleasant disposition and an expression of tenderness and care for others. Kindness is considered a virtue and is highly valued in many cultures and religions. But you needn’t have any sort of religious affiliation to embrace the practice of kindness. The ability to be kind resides within each of us, but we must choose to unearth and embrace it. Like any spiritual path or practice, each day we must choose again and again. That’s why it’s called a practice.
Kindness sounds good on paper, but it’s not always easy. When we’re tired, busy, frustrated, or irritable, it can be challenging to take a deep breath and speak and act from a place of kindness.
Embracing kindness as a spiritual practice is a process of becoming more deliberate and thoughtful in word and action. In his book, The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael Roach recounts a story about early Tibetan Buddhists called Kadampas who carried around bags of black and white pebbles. Each time they said or thought something positive, they placed a white pebble in their left pocket; each time their thoughts or words were negative, they placed a black pebble in their right pocket. At the end of the day, they would count up each group of pebbles and inevitably, the black pebbles outnumbered the white. The pebbles presented a tangible measurement of the quality of thoughts and deeds and helped the Kadampas develop awareness of their thoughts and actions.
However, at the end of the day, all of the pebbles went back into the bag. In other words, the slate was wiped clean and the next day was an opportunity to start anew.
As with any spiritual practice, kindness requires daily action and deliberate commitment. It’s about intention—we may not always succeed in being kind, but if we intend to be kind in our lives, we will hit that mark more often than not.
If you want to develop a sense of kindness, think simply and think small. You don’t have to perform any great deeds or heroic acts; you simply have to set out to help rather than harm. Choose silence over criticism; choose encouragement over derision; choose a smile over a scowl; choose to speak softly and gently rather than loudly and harshly. In short, choose kindness—it can only lead to good things.