The most effective technique

Kindness is a trait we start to learn early. Drew visits the animals on my friend Judy's farm, near Dayton, Ohio, 1987.

Kindness is a trait we start to learn early.
Drew visits the animals on my friend Judy’s farm, near Dayton, Ohio, 1987.

“People often ask me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It is a little embarrassing that after years and years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the best answer is–just be a little kinder.” Aldous Huxley

I thought quite awhile about Huxley’s conclusion, and I think it has a lot of merit.  I can think of hardly any world problem — war, disease, hunger, crime — that would not lessen significantly if kindness grew and became more widespread.  And on a smaller scale, much day-to-day misery is alleviated in countless situations by people who show kindness in big or little ways.

But on a more personal level, as I consider my own life, I know that thinking, feeling and being kinder is a solution to many of the little irritations that sour my moods and put a grouchy expression on my face.  When I’m feeling patient with other people, my day just seems to go better.  When I’m angry or frustrated with others, even for good reasons, it’s my own day, mood and life that suffer most.  And I’m a hotheaded person who needs this lesson more than almost anyone I know.

Sometimes, the simplest things can be the hardest.  Kindness is a trait that comes naturally to many of us at least some of the time, but there is never enough of it to go around.  Yet it’s fairly easy to find ways to be kind if we are willing to make the effort, and as with so many actions, one kindness often leads to another.

Next time you’re having a really bad day, try this: take a few deep breaths, remind yourself that you will most likely survive whatever minor disasters you’re coping with, and resolve to use kindness as a strategy to lighten your mood and make an immediate improvement to your attitude.  Then practice — even if it feels stiff and unnatural at first — smiling at people, opening doors for strangers, complimenting cute babies or dogs you see, letting someone who is obviously in a hurry go ahead of you in the checkout line at Walmart.  Even if you can’t muster any affection for strangers, FAKE it.  I bet it will brighten your day, even if only by allowing you a private inner laugh at your own awkward efforts.

Have you ever made a conscious effort to be more kind?  If so, how did it make you feel?  Do you agree with Huxley that kindness is an effective means of transformation?

36 Comments

  1. True. A little or a little more kindness can solve a lot of problems. “Even if you can’t muster any affection for strangers, FAKE it.” Good suggestion. Should try that. Thanks for the sweet post – great reminder.

    • Thank you Bindu. There was a postal clerk in our local office who seemed to me the grouchiest person on earth to everyone who came in. I started to write a letter of complaint to the post office, but instead I made it a kind of goal to try to make her smile. Eventually I succeeded! More importantly, after watching her for awhile I realized she was really doing a good job and just wasn’t the “smiley” type. I need to take my own advice more often about faking affection; very often, it turns a situation around, I think. Thanks for being here!

  2. HarryS

    Chuck C. in his marvelous little book, “A New Pair of Glasses” in which he tells of his marvelous recovery from alcoholism made the profound statement, “When we know better, we do better”.

    “Try a little tenderness”! 🙂

    • Wow, I like that quote…I may have to use it in this blog sometime. I do think a lot of conflict stems from ignorance. In Dickens’ Christmas Carol, which is one of my all-time favorite books, there is the chilling scene of the two starving children clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present; he says the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want. He tells Scrooge to fear them both, but to fear the boy most, because on his face is written DOOM. I may not be getting the quote just right but that’s the general idea. That part really made an impression on me when I was young – I had to think it over to understand and agree with it. Now comes the hard part – I have to go out today and actually DO this stuff! Thanks for the helpful quote!

  3. merry

    Julia, good morning. what a wonderful picture of Drew! I agree with Huxley’s quote…if we were kinder, there would be no wars…personal or national.
    I make an effort to smile, greet even strangers, compliment babies/children…even on those days when I feel unwell…the effort helps me to feel better. :}
    May you and Jeff have a blessed Tuesday.

    • Merry, I feel the same way about smiling. In fact, when I am out walking in our York neighborhood, sometimes I wave at every car that passes. I realize that might seem odd, but many of the people going past are neighbors (it’s a very large neighborhood) and I think things just feel more friendly that way. Many of them wave back, too :-). Being friendly really does lift my spirits and I don’t care if people think me odd. I really appreciate your visits here, and hope you have a wonderful week!

  4. Feeling slightly despondent. After reading this I’m taking a couple of breaths and just counting my blessings. Thnx for putting things in perspective 🙂

    • I hope that your mood picks up today, but I’ve found when I’m feeling despondent and can’t seem to cheer myself, I just keep reminding myself that “this too shall pass.” For me, one of the most insidiously dangerous things about being despondent is that it’s all too easy to think “things have always been this way and will never be different.” One would think experience has taught us differently, but knowing something and feeling it are two different matters, I find. So I just try to acknowledge my sad mood and reassure myself that I’ll be feeling good again before too long. If this blog helps you or anyone else who is feeling blue, that makes me VERY VERY happy! Thanks for visiting here!

  5. I find I do not agree with Huxley about much ( e.g. the whole pig’s-head-on-a-stick thing is not inevitable in my world). But I do agree with you “on a personal level”. I find if I am ever feeling patient, I am on the verge of not being kind. True kindness involves not realizing it. Someone says: “You’ve soiled your shirt, changing my tire.” If I can say, in sincerity, “I hadn’t noticed,” then, it’s going to be a good day for me.

    • Yes, I thought it almost ironic to see that quote coming from Huxley. Just the fact that he found it embarrassing, and admitted so, gave me a different idea of him; I am no fan of his, although I think Brave New World came chillingly close to being prophetic. As I observe our modern world where, as George Will said, “we are entertaining ourselves into inanition” (I had to look that word up; Will’s verbal scalpel is extremely effective at differentiation, but I have to be near a dictionary while I read him – not a bad thing) I agree with the writer who said that Huxley’s dystopia is closer to our present reality than Orwell’s was. Re: feeling patient vs. BEING patient – very good point! There’s a big difference between feeling patient (or kind or compassionate or whatever) than actually BEING those things. Again I recall how Jesus described Judgment Day – EVERYBODY is surprised, both those who served the Lord (they don’t recall doing it) and those who did not (they don’t recall NOT doing it). Quite a lot to contemplate. Thanks for your insight about feeling patient – it will stick with me!

      • Wow, Julia, we really connected on this one (baseball and bat metaphor intended). Your comments about both groups on Judgement day being surprised trully knocks it outta the park!

  6. MaryAnn

    Again, my dear Julia strikes at the heart of things! Kindness is a wonderful way to demonstrate how we BELIEVE what Jesus teaches. I find myself cringing at the tone of my voice, when a little kindness would serve all those around me much better. I, too, will go actually do it, today. When I ride my bike & walk, I greet all the other walkers, joggers, & cyclists. It feels like convivial camaraderie (for a moment~being in the same “condition”, so to speak). Maybe hoping to develop the connection to a greater degree.
    Such a charming photo of Drew! Looks like he is enjoying himself & asking lots of questions to increase his knowledge of his surroundings: as usual.
    I love your input!

    • Thanks Mary Ann! I cringe when I hear my own voice too (one reason I love writing!) but for both you and me, I think we are just so enthusiastic at times that we OVERWHELM people, including ourselves. You bring a convivial atmosphere with you wherever you go! I’m so happy to visit with you here!

  7. I have to say a couple of things here. First without reading the caption I really thought the baby was Matt. How very cute Drew was and of course they both are handsome men. Second, my immediate boss is a bit of a witch. Every time I have to go to her with something it feels very confrontational. Tonight as I was leaving I really needed to talk with her about getting some more help in our office and I was really dreading it. i took a deep breathe and decided to handle it in a “friendly conversation, just thought I would mention” kind of way. It worked!! We shared a laugh and agreed that help is needed. She even shared some thoughts of her own on how to fix the situation. It was all a bit awkward but I was really proud of me for not being icky about it and sticking to my resolve to TRY and be a bit more kind when trying to talk with her. I can’t say that everything will be well but for today at least. Hope you had a great day. I love you.

    • Amy, this brought a smile to my face as you can I imagine. I am so happy that you were able to handle the situation gracefully. Maybe the start of a permanent improvement? In any case, awkward beats hostile any day. I am proud of you. Love you too!

      • P.S. I hope your boss doesn’t know anyone who reads this blog! 🙂 Thank goodness I’m an unknown.

      • LOL!! You are NOT an unknown but I am not too worried about it.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, our dinner this evening at the hotel Japanese restaurant found us dining with strangers from Manhattan, Boston, Holland, Scotland, New Jersey and undisclosed. What started out as reserved ended with laughter and even hugs. It was a very unique group. The highlight was that one “stranger” was a bilateral below elbow amputee in a wheelchair. I wanted to share because there is only one way to describe what happened. We were kind and had an evening to remember, even though we had no idea how it would play out! Thank you for letting me share a little bit of our day with you. My prayers continue, my friend.

    • Sheila, how perfect that Bill would be seated with someone he would naturally understand much better than most who might dine with that person would. Jeff and I saw a brief news clip of a woman who has four prosthetic limbs after a flesh-eating bacteria took her natural ones. Every time I see such stories (or see the many soldiers at Walter Reed who move so gracefully on their prosthetic limbs) I think of Bill now. That dinner party sounds like something I would just love – wish I had been there! Thanks for letting me experience it through your comments. And thanks, as always, for your prayers!

  9. Nice post. I love the smile on the little boy’s face.

    • Thanks Tony – hope you are doing well! I appreciate your visits here.

  10. My friend shared this quote with me once:

    I must exercise compassion,
    Help the fallen to their feet,
    Be a friend to the friendless,
    Help make an empty life complete.

    I think it might have been their mantra in her sorority. While I’m not constantly successful at it, I think of it often. There is so much need in the world. If all you can give is a smile, give it often. I’ve seen it make a difference. I used to work in customer service and the job required a lot of tact and patience even when your nerves were frayed to nothing. One trick we used was to negotiate with a smile since it’s harder to argue with someone who’s smiling. 😀

    • I agree! I have noticed that even in difficult situations, smiles and humor go a long way to diffusing volatile interactions. Plus, when I smile, I can’t help but feel better. It sounds superstitious but it really does work. I think you do a great job of being friendly and supportive – you were one of the first who found my blog and encouraged me to continue. When I visited your site I thought, WOW this is one happy place! And I was hooked on blogging. 🙂 Thanks!

      • That’s just so nice to hear, thanks for all your support and kind words Julia. I bought a book about blogging and loved all the images but living at the lake, our internet was really bad and spotty. When we moved into town, I had more time (no yard work) and decided to take the plunge. As you know, it really is so much more than you’d expect. I’m really lucky to have little stress and time to indulge. I could have never dream’t how wonderful it is to make connections all over the world after being so isolated. It’s like a whole new beginning 😀

        • Yes, I think those of us who have felt isolated (whether by geography, circumstances, or a dislike of noisy gatherings) have been able to be part of online communities that are so much more rewarding than TV or other forms of surfing the net, because they are interactive. I am so happy to have you visit here, and I love visiting Boomdeeville as well!

  11. PS, that’s a really cute photo. The shaggy dog is as big as Drew 😀 We were always happiest on the farm too. Visiting Grandpa and all the farm animals

    • We had such fun that day. My friend Judy, who worked with me at USAir, was the most fun person. I remember talking with her about the things she did and I said “you guys must be rich” and she said “no, we just know how to be poor well.” I loved that and have remembered it often over the years. Farm animals are so fun, aren’t they! You are lucky you had that experience as a child. I am afraid fewer and fewer of today’s children will.

      • 😀 HA, I like Judy’s attitude. Farmings so different now. There are very few small ‘family’ farms that allow people to make a living at it. There was a acerage close to our lake home, a type of ‘Hobby Farm’. She had mini-donkey’s and ponies, bunnies, goats and lots of cats. I’d wander in there just to visit with her crew. It sure could take the edge off a work day 😀

        • That sounds like my kind of farm! I remember someone telling me about how important it was to have cats on a farm, to keep rodents out of the barns. So cool when animals can be fun as well as useful. That sort of farm is like a wonderland for kids and adults too.

  12. Hi Julia,
    I tend to look at this like the “chicken and the egg” question. Which came first?
    I would propose it’s the transformation that brought out kindness.
    Either way, they are closely linked and vitally important to personal growth.

    • That’s a good point. Probably it’s a cycle. If we can just break through with a minor transformation, the resulting kindness will continue the transformation the spiral will go upwards instead of downwards. The trick is to move in the right direction and trust the process to feed itself. Thanks for your comment!

      • That’s probably very true…a cycle of ever increasing healing. Great visual!

  13. Nice post.
    Kindness and compassion ought to go through our lives for reaching our Life’s real Goal,.
    I believe.

    • Yes, it’s often difficult to be kind but once we begin, we realize it really is a better way to live.

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