The Seeds of Kindness

There is an old proverb that says, ‘you reap what you sow.” These words imply that the actions we take today greatly impact our behaviours and interactions in the future. In its Christian roots the phrase was meant as a warning for people not to misbehave or treat others poorly as those injustices will come back to them. In our community we could use these words to cultivate kindness and gratitude in order to improve our quality of life and increase our connection to others. 

There seems to be a collective sadness at the moment as our world becomes more polarized and each side makes judgments about the other without effectively listening to the other’s perspective. My education tells me that this judgment and misunderstanding is based in fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of not being accepted, and fear of our future. This fear can drive people apart and create a world where we forget about our values and how we want to treat each other in respectful ways. I see it everywhere, even in the kindest of people when they are quick to anger because the driver in front of them cut them off or a company makes a policy they do not like or understand. 

There is a term in social psychology called fundamental attribution error. It is when we look at a situation and attribute the negative qualities to the person and not the situation when it is outside of ourselves. However, when we are the person involved, we see the negatives in the situation and not ourselves. For example, if I am late to a meeting I will indicate traffic or weather as the cause. If someone else is late I may focus on the person, thinking that they are not good with time management. This error can create judgment of others and unnecessary frustration. Luckily there is something we can do to bring ourselves back to kindness.

When someone does or says something that evokes a judgment in us such as that person is lazy or mean, stop and consider all the reasons that person might have done what they did. There are many reasons for our behaviour and rarely is it ever because we are intentionally trying to hurt someone. Most often it is because we are dealing with something difficult internally. That person who cut you off 
in traffic, maybe their mother just died, or depression kept them in bed late and they do not want to lose their job. When your partner snaps at you, perhaps they are keeping something important inside or are struggling with hearing something negative about themselves. Choosing kindness and asking a person what they are experiencing rather than deciding for them in your own mind can positively impact both your lives. 

Take some time to reflect on your own life. Have you found as of late that you are quick to judge the actions of others? What would it cost you to be kind? How much effort would it take to generate three or four alternative explanations for why someone acts in a certain way? What difference would it make in your life if you did?

I know I go to Brené Brown a lot in the column, but her words are so fitting here and a really nice reframe of the old proverb ‘you reap what you sow.’ She said instead, “Generosity, to assume the best in people, is almost inherently a selfish act because the life you change first is your own.”

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