(Published in The Ottawa Citizen - Ottawa, Canada's main daily newspaper) Just my kind(ness): Kindness as a way of life By Wendy DeMos
Kindness is becoming a buzzword these days as growing numbers realize that big houses and fancy cars aren't cutting it in the happiness department.
Just ask Bill Mills, a consultant who aims to bring meaning into our workplaces through kindness.
He doesn't believe in the adage, nice guys finish last.
Finish last at what? he asks.
"Acquiring the most toys? Winning the biggest market share? A relative of mine works for a company whose formal vision statement is world domination! I asked him, 'Why? Isn't doing well -- even really, really well, -- good enough? Do you want to be known as the guy who owned the biggest house? Bought the fastest car? Dominated the world? Is that really what you want?"
Instead, Mills, 51, focuses on kindness. And one way to be kind, he says, is practicing what he calls non-judgmental awareness.
"People don't like to feel judged," he explains from his home in Manotick.
"Kindness is not only being aware of them, but also being aware of me and my reactions to what's happening. Judgment absorbs energy that might otherwise be used for clear-headed action."
And the results of the kindness approach?
"People tend to open up," he says. "They give themselves permission to be more of themselves. To try things that they might not have tried otherwise. They experiment with ideas more, speak out more, reveal more of who they really are. They innovate, laugh and learn more. They connect with each other -- and with me, more."
And that, he says, makes his workshops creative and fun.
Mills started to focus on kindness in his work about 12 years ago when he felt restless and changed jobs often. He says he realizes now he was "looking for love in all the wrong places."
"Whenever I became restless or bored, I moved out of my job instead of moving in on myself to see what was missing -- inside of me -- that was creating the urge for me to move on." He changed jobs often, he says, because "it was easier to move out than move in."
It was at that point that he decided to look at himself honestly. He discovered that he was very judgmental.
"I constantly evaluated -- usually in a negative way -- every experience I encountered. Instead of being kind and compassionate, I was harsh and critical. As a result, I wasn't really enjoying the world I had created around me."
He embarked on a journey of self-discovery that included meditation and yoga, ultimately learning how to let go of judgment and incorporate more kindness and spirit into his work and life.
"This allowed me to enrich the experiences I was already having instead of wasting so much time and energy looking for new ones."
It was this self-discovery process that led him to found a training and consulting firm, Inner Formation (www.innerformation.ca), in 1991.
Mills now sees bringing kindness into the workplace as his life's mission.
Indeed, in the stress and complexity of our lives, says Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart, we may forget our deepest intentions. But when people come to the end of their life and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, "How much is in my bank account?" or "How many books did I write?" or "What did I build?" or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: "Did I love well?" "Did I live fully?"
Kindness is certainly not a new concept, as most spiritual belief systems support being kind and non-judgmental.
The Buddhist tradition, for example, says that real happiness comes from the state of mind of wishing others to be happy.
"Normally we see our own happiness and others' happiness to be different things," says Duncan Gillis, teacher at Joyful Land Buddhist Centre on Somerset Street, "sometimes even competing things. But the Buddhist point of view says they are completely interdependent."
We can only be truly happy to the extent that we have love and compassion for others, says Gillis, 34. "To the extent that we lack these, we experience suffering and discontent."
Gillis believes that it is only when we open our hearts to care about how others are doing and to an awareness of their suffering, we are released from the prison of self-obsession and all the neuroses that arise from it.
Of course, the Christian golden rule proclaims we "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Then there's the Jewish tradition, in which acts of kindness dominate teachings. Though you won't hear about these kindnesses because a component of the Jewish faith is chesed, or giving of oneself to help another without regard to compensation or any form of glory.
Even Wiccan beliefs include kindness in its tenets. For example, the Wiccan Threefold Law says that a witch who commits a harmful act can expect three times as much harm as his/her action caused; and if he/she commits an act of kindness, he/she can expect three times as much kindness as a result.
Random Acts of Kindness
To some, simply having a person's full attention is the kindest act. To others, it's financial generosity.
To Ruth Hawkins, 44, a government official with the Health Department, it's a neighbour and "earth angel" who helps Ruth when it's most needed.
"When my children were quite small and I was working full time outside the home, it was not unusual for my friend Gloria to just do things unexpectedly that showed her care and concern," she says. "One time in particular stands out in my memory. I had just gotten home from picking up my six-year-old daughter from the sitter and my twin, three-year-old boys from daycare. It was late, everyone was hungry, and I had not even had a second to think about what to make for dinner. The phone rang. It was Gloria. 'Have you made supper?' she asked. No, I had not. 'I'll be right down, I have a few leftovers.' Gloria arrived with a full dinner, including salad and dessert -- enough food even for lunch the next day. I felt blessed by her kindness, her generosity and particularly by her awareness that I needed a lift.''
Or take Chris Mills, 54, a public health specialist. She says it's hard to pick an example of kindness because she's experienced so much.
She focuses on one episode that took place while in her teens. A couple of teachers and her probation officer together rescued her from a bad living situation and "probably made the difference between me going to reform school and, instead, finishing high school, going on to university and turning out to be a pretty healthy adult despite a not-so-great start in life. Their kindness changed the entire course of my life."
In Autobiography of a Geisha, author Sayo Masuda, after a difficult life with few kindnesses extended to her, reflects on what ultimately brings her joy and hope.
She reminisces about the joy she felt as a young child being given a sugar cube by a stranger.
"It's not just children; everyone seems to be deeply touched by unexpected joy brought to them by others and is unable to forget it."
Masuda continues to tell of the tenderness she felt as an adult as she passed by a crying child and eased his pain by giving him her attention and care.
"That child will be grown up by now, and if he hasn't forgotten me, whenever he sees a crying child he'll want to say a kind word and wipe the kid's nose. And when that kid grows up, he'll do the same. To do something kind for another is never a bad feeling; it fosters a spirit of caring for other people. And who knows, after a few hundred years have passed, human being may even learn to cooperate with one another. What a lovely place to live this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else,and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish -- our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.
"Yes, that was it," Masuda reflects, "I'd try to teach children that if they felt glad when someone gave them even a single piece of candy, then they in turn should give to others."
Wendy DeMos is a singer/songwriter and freelance writer.