Posts Tagged ‘help’

Kindness and the presence of strength

December 11, 2011

Some weeks ago, I was walking to a function in downtown Washington, DC. The directions I had been given were not entirely accurate, and it was 8:00 a.m. on a very chilly morning. I had not worn the warmest of jackets and was grumbling to myself about how inconvenient this journey was for me. While circling around to find my destination, I walked past the entrance to a store. The entrance was recessed within a short flight of stairs and at the bottom of the stairs were two men in sleeping bags.

They were not there for an early bird special.

It was an obvious fact that they were homeless and the sleeping bags were gifts (voluntary or otherwise). One or both of them might have been dead. One had his head buried deep within the bag. The other had his eyes open staring blankly past me.

The coldness I felt suddenly had nothing to do with temperature.

My perspective changed in that instant along with my knowledge of how totally helpless I was to change their situation. The kind thing to do would be to give them some money so that they could eat (I was presuming they would use the money for food, not drugs, but who knows?). Another kind action would have been to sit with them and talk about their situation, and I could offer them ideas about how to find shelter, food, jobs . . . but I can’t even write about that without seeing how totally inappropriate it is when I can’t provide any of those. It would be like driving past someone with a flat tire, stopping, getting out of my car, going to stand next to the person, and saying “Wow. You should change that tire.” And, then getting back into my car and driving away. The kind thing to do would be to help that person change the bleeping tire.

I do not have the personal resources to rescue or change those two men or the hundreds of thousands just like them. The best I can offer them is my kindness and prayers. I can support the shelters who support them . . . but then I think, are those shelters really kind to their situation or are the shelters simply an appeasement – a way for us to say “See? We ARE doing something about the homeless!” We are . . . but not really. I don’t know that we are being kind to the homeless in perpetuating a solution that simply makes life a little bit more endurable on the street.

I think true kindness requires strength — a strong sense of being one’s own person, a strong sense of boundaries, and a very strong sense of being One with the world. It is knowing when it is appropriate to be kind (i.e., is someone being harmed?) As children, we don’t always have this type of strength. We develop it through flexing those muscles in becoming our own person, recognizing boundaries, and knowing that the homeless person is a part of us. Kind acts are often invisible to others and not necessarily an outward display. Just taking good care of ourselves and accepting responsibility for our own well-being is an act of kindness. My real tests in the seeing world come with whether or not I can respond with kindness to someone who appears to be SO very undeserving of kindness. Kindness for me is a state of being and acting that respects all people, moves our relationship towards one of wholeness, and makes it easy for me to sleep at night. It is also a kindness to accept that people have the right to make decisions for themselves and it might not be the decision I would have chosen for them.

Kindness is not a solution to life’s troubles . . . it just makes the landing a little softer.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

Self-help vs. Ways of Being

June 7, 2010

In a recent conversation about don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements, a friend described the book as being in the “self-help” category and claimed that if self-help books worked, we would need only one. This person’s argument was that because there are endless self-help books being written and published, that is evidence that they don’t work and never will.

I never thought of The Four Agreements as a self-help book. I think of the book Heal Your Headache as a self-help book. (If you suffer from migraines, fibromyalgia, constant headaches, neuralgia, or any other chronic illness that is ill-defined and for which you cannot find relief, read that book. It will save your sanity.)

But I digress.

I view The Four Agreements more as a ways of being in the world than self-help. Similar to Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, Ruiz writes with a stream of consciousness style that sounds as if it comes directly from his experience. The four agreements are: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. On the surface, they sound like advice your parents would give you. To live them honestly, though, one must translate that advice to a way of personal being in the world.

That’s the tricky part.

Exactly how can I be impeccable with my word? What does that mean? Does that mean I have to tell the truth ALL the time? How can I not take what happens to me personally? Don’t make assumptions about anything? Really? Anything? And that part about doing my best, well, at least Ruiz makes some allowance for the fact that there are different levels of “best” depending on how my life is going at the moment.

Even if it were a “self-help” book, the application would be the same which is why I think the more books that are written, the more information that is shared, the more we know of the experience of others, the more common ground we can find and the less alone we are. Everyone writes their book from their own personal experience and way of being in the world. They are telling us “this worked for me; it might work for you, but you have to make it yours.”

And that is about as impeccable as I can be in this moment.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass