It’s more than just making a vow to be kind.
March 26, 2023
Only one thing is essential: to behave throughout your life toward the liars and crooks around you with kindness, honesty, and justice…Marcus Aurelius.
We all love the idea of kindness. Most of us label it as one of our top values.
But in our self-absorbed, selfie world, we’ve learned to give ourselves a break.
“I’ll be kind when you start treating me with respect.”
“I’ll be kind when I’m not depressed or anxious.”
“I’ll be kind when you agree with me.”
“I’ll be kind when you stop being such a jerk.”
No One Is Anything All the Time
We always have room to grow.
Labeling ourselves as someone kind — implying we are always that — is a slippery slope.
If I believe I’m kind, will I notice when I’m not?
- Will I notice when I’ve hurt someone by neglecting their feelings or self-righteously presenting mine?
- Will I notice when I’m self-absorbed and treat someone else as an object, here to ensure my happiness?
- Will I notice when I blame others for my inadequacies and insecurities?
The only way I can become who I want to be is to see clearly when I’m not.
Three Ways to Check Yourself
1. You can do what Dan Harris describes in his 2022 Ted Talk.
After ten years of attempting to follow the Buddhist tenets of basic goodness, he wanted to know what kind of progress he’d made given his hours of meditation and self-reflection.
He gave one of those anonymous 360 degree ‘tell me what you think of me’ assessments to his partner, boss, co-workers, direct reports, and friends.
He received the report. It offered ten pages describing his strengths and then sixteen gut-wrenching pages describing how he was still, often, a jerk.
It was a watershed moment for him.
His wife, reading it out loud to him, finally fled to the bathroom in tears because she felt so bad for him.
But here’s where the rubber hit the road. First, Harris committed to working on being less of a jerk.
And then, three years later, he did the assessment again. This time the result was a firm: “You’re now less of a jerk than you were three years ago.”
Here’s the deal. None of us will transform to the point where we have no jerkiness in us — no matter how many vows we make. Even the Dalai Lama admits that he gets angry and frustrated at times.
Since I’m on my own and don’t work within an organization that offers 360 degree assessments, I’ve needed to find other ways to check myself.
2. You can keep your finger pointing at yourself and away from anybody else.
Pema Chodron, in her book, “Comfortable with Uncertainty,” gives some great advice:
She says, “If we were to list the people we don’t like–people we find obnoxious, threatening or worthy of contempt–we would find much about ourselves that we can’t face. If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities. We project those onto the outside world.”
This idea has become part of my daily (if not hourly) check-in with myself on how to be less of a jerk. And it has turned into the most fruitful exercise I’ve ever attempted.
It’s also a quick, easy way to assess myself without doing the 360. Honestly, I’m not quite ready for sixteen pages sending me over the edge. But who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll be strong enough.
3. Use the simple, profound tool from Naikan Therapy (the Japanese art of self-reflection) to ask yourself three questions at the end of every day.
1. What have I received today?
2. What have I given today?
3. What troubles or difficultiess have I caused someone today?
I recently had a complicated and challenging interaction with a long-time friend.
She shared with me how I had hurt her at some point in the past.
My very first thought was how often she’d hurt my feelings over the years without ever apologizing.
But rather than share that thought, I sat with the third question.
I allowed myself to feel the remorse most of us experience if we acknowledge that we’ve hurt someone we care about.
I apologized and said I felt terrible that I had hurt her.
And then, I waited for her apology for her role in our complicated interactions.
She made it clear she didn’t have a role.. And that takes us back to Marcus Aurelius.
No matter how at fault we think someone else is, only one thing is essential. Regardless of how lost, self-absorbed, and just plain wrong we think somebody else is, without being a doormat we always have the option to manage ourselves with integrity and respect, without blaming anyone.
To Wrap Things Up
If you’re part of an organization that does 360 assessments it’s a doorway to seeing yourself through the eyes of everyone with whom you interact. As Harris made clear, it’s not for the faint of heart — it takes courage to do it once, much less twice.
For the rest of us we have two powerful self-assessment tools to check in with ourselves every day. Not to shame ourselves. To bring us just a little closer to being the people we aspire to be.