Monday, October 20, 2014

Kindness Training

I’m not an unkind person, but I’m certainly not someone for whom the attribute “kind” is the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, kindness is an issue I’ve grappled with since about 2nd grade when I wasn’t very nice to a classmate. I snubbed her friendly invitation to play and headed off to inch my way into a group that seemed more popular. This behavior became a habit, particularly with this one girl. I’m not sure when I realized I was being unkind, but I do recall that I eventually came to think about it at night when I would promise myself to be nicer to Judy the next day. But I never seemed to be able to pull it off.
I thought about it for years, especially when I felt myself behaving similarly to others later in life. What was astonishing is that at my 10-year high school reunion, Judy greeted me warmly as if I was one of her oldest and dearest friends. We had a wonderful chat, and I learned that she and her husband had bought a home around the corner from the house in which I grew up. She regularly talked with my dad and knew a lot about my life. Had this woman never felt my snubs? Or was she simply one of those extremely forgiving and, dare I say, kind people?
The Judy scenario was one that continued to niggle at the edges of my conscience for years. And though I eventually could catch myself in the act of such behavior and change it, I hadn’t exactly stopped doing the snub thing. Moreover, another example of a particular lack of thoughtfulness slammed me one evening as I rushed into a big bookstore to make a purchase while my spouse waited in the car. The man who held the door for me called attention to the fact that I had walked right in without so much as a thank you. I was terribly embarrassed, so much so that I couldn’t even make my purchase. You see, my spouse had been calling me on this lack of courtesy for a while, but when a stranger pointed it out, I woke up.

These two incidents had a great deal to do with my plan to go into kindness training in 2014. Athletic models work for me so training was the word that worked. It seemed that I had been aware of this flaw in my character for a long time, but I had not been able change it. Training was necessary to make that happen. Here’s an overview of the training I’ve undertaken this year:
1.  I needed an affirmation. Kindness became my word for 2014.
2.  I needed a coach, so I bought and read Guerrilla Kindness by Gavin Whitsett. I used a highlighter and post-its to mark the suggestions that stood out—many that had never occurred to me and some that I wanted to beef up in my life.
3. Then I made a list of 66 Kindnesses that I wanted to work on this year (I’m 66 this year, so that’s where the number came from).
4. Whitsett recommends marking 20% of the Kindnesses that you think will be easy to implement, so I did that too.
5. Then I set an alarm on my phone to ring every Friday at 7am reminding me to reread the entire list and create a “Kindness Plan” for the upcoming week. I list 4-6 Kindnesses, two of which are more challenging or take longer or more effort.
6. Then I get to work training to be kind.
I’m not an intuitively kind person, like my spouse or one of my granddaughters, but I have to say the impulse is getting more automatic, and I LOVE Fridays. There is so much joy in working on a specific Kindness, like preparing a meal for a friend who is ill, dropping off old magazines at local laundromats, stopping to buy gift certificates for ice cream, the car wash, or movie tickets to give to service people. I’ve learned the names of 10 of my neighbors, so I can speak to them by name when I’m outdoors. I’ve trained myself to the let others end hugs and handshakes.
Best of all, I’m swerving off my intended path more often than not to lend a hand when I notice the opportunity for kindness. No more niggling worry about snubbing Judy, but I do offer a mental thanks to her for helping me see the light.