Kindness is Key to Success

I invited a guest speaker into my classroom to teach a subject I know well.

Posted Nov 06, 2019

The other day, I invited a guest speaker into my classroom. I wanted to teach my students about meditation and mindfulness. Now, I have practiced meditation, mindfulness meditation, off and on for nearly twenty years. I have read books, listened to countless talks, and even attended a couple of short, half-day meditatation retreats on the topic, yet I wanted someone else to teach my students. So in came our guest, who was great, and she talked about how she came to her practice, and types of practing, and she led a short meditation. I really enjoyed listening to her, and I really admired how she owned it. That’s why I wanted someone else to teach my students. It’s the owning it thing. I don’t. At least not easily. 

When I took an online survey that ranked my top twenty character traits that reflect my values, spirituality was number twenty, bottom of the list. I was not surprised, and yet I was. I know the quiz ranked the qualities we most value as well as what we interpret the world through, and what we lead with. I lead with humor, honesty, love of learning, judgment, and kindness, not with spirituality. And yet, I have two decades of practice at something many people connect to spirituality.

Maybe I am a really bad meditator. Or maybe I am just a closet spiritualist. 

Spiritualist is the wrong word. I am definitely not a spiritualist. 

But I was a little disappointed to find spirituality down at the bottom of that list. Almost as disappointed to find that there as I was surprised to find kindness in the top five. Judgement, sure. I reckon I’m pretty dang judgmental. Kind, though? Hmmm. 

And yet, perhaps there is a connection to the meditation practice and kindness. They say meditation helps you, but often you don’t know that it’s helping you. You just notice life is a little easier to handle. They also say that if you meditate, you develop compassion, a.k.a. kindness. Why is that so? Because once you take time to be mindful of what is going on inside you in the present moment, you realize that others are going through the same set of vissiscitudes, also known as emotions. They’re not going through them at the same time you are, but they are going through the same ones. Thus, as you learn to be a little patient with yourself, you also learn a little patience with others, and a little compassion for everyone’s struggles. So maybe, just maybe, my stealth spirituality is reflected in my top five after all, via kindness. 

And, if I am going to be kind to others, perhaps I can be kind to myself by reminding myself that judgment is not necessarily a pejorative characteristic. It’s an ability to see sides and facets and form an opinion based on discernment, rather than on pure reactivity. 

I had my students take this quiz. You can take it, too, for free.*  Quite a few of them had kindness in their top five. I found this surprising. Sure, they’re a nice bunch. Most of them are too quiet. Rendered speechless by the request to offer an opinion to the group, as a matter of fact and of deep annoyance to me. I feel quite judgmental about that reticence, and not in a kind way, if I’m honest, which according to the VIA character survey I usually am. 

What the relative proponderance of kindness made me think what that these kids might be reflecting a need they feel in our culture. Our popular culture, our news, our political leaders of late seem so far from kind that maybe our students, our kids, are presenting a collective need for it. I know that I have developed a real thirst for books about etiquette, and television shows that feature people behaving kindly and politely. The seventeen year old and I have been rewatching “Call the Midwife,” a show about midwives and nurses in the poor East End of London in the 1950s and early 1960s. One thing that show portrays is people in the poorest of circumstances behaving with politeness and dignity, even in the most undignified circumstances. I may start wearing a girdle soon I am so taken with the whole dignity of self-restraint thing. Give me a young, single gal dressed in a skirt, cardigan, and sensible shoes collapsing at a bus stop from an attempt at self-aborting a fetus over road rage

Okay, not really. 

My students, or at least the two or three who do volunteer to speak, brought up the idea that kindness and politeness were two different things. That politeness is fake, or it can be. But I think they are related. Politeness might be fake—it certainly is fake, sometimes—but the adherence to it, particularly when you might not feel it, is truly kind. And when someone truly doesn’t deserve kindness, and no names will be named here, it’s a kindness to yourself to maintain dignity. Politeness, etiquette, allows that. 

Anyway, I don’t at all want to turn back the clock to illegal abortion and lack of contraception. I don’t want to turn back the clock at all. I want to move forward and beyond our current situation. But I recognize, and apparently so do many of my students, the need for kindness as we try to get there. I feel kind of hopeful about things, if kindness is a deep value for many of us. Kindness is not the sole property of the religious and spiritual. It’s available to all of us. 

Peace. 

*Here’s the link to the quiz. It takes about 15 minutes. You have to give an email address and after you take the quiz, scroll to the bottom of your screen and you’ll see the list of characteristics. www.viacharacter.org