As the perpetual US political campaign season has heated up again, I now want to send the bevy of presidential hopefuls into a corner to don dunce caps and take a long time -out. Every four years, the public is subjected to a barrage of egotistical meanness as (mostly) men jostle about to capture the highest governmental post in the land.
This year, the levels of jingoism, misogyny, racism, and homophobia have been cranked up to unbearable heat. Some of the candidates advocate ever more intolerance, scapegoating, and violence towards certain “out groups”. Even when I purposely tune out the unkind hatred, some of it seeps through anyway. Never in my idealistic mind did I ever imagine that such uncivil, unkind speech and behavior would remain socially acceptable in this day and age.
I’ve never lost that basic childhood feeling that unkindness is a great human wrong. Harboring unhappy wishes towards other people is sure way to cultivate resentment and is the foundation of an unfulfilling life. On the other hand, another childhood lesson says that honest, sincere kindness towards every single person and living thing guarantees deep, abiding happiness. These lessons come not only from personal experience, they are strongly reinforced by ancient wisdom teachings that anybody, anywhere can access.
There is already way too much negativity, anger, and violence in the world. I do not care to be drawn into the circle of people who advocate more of these things. I wish such persons well, mentally send them love, then focus my attention on more positive, loving concepts as best as I can without denying the “real” world. This must be done frequently because of the strong power of the dark negativity that is lording over the world these days.
Because this week is Be Kind to Humankind Week, I have a legitimate excuse to get on my soapbox, again, and write about kindness as opposed to unkindness. I hope that my little writings will somehow seep into some of the public consciousness and counter the tsunami of hate that is washing over our civilization.
One of the wisdom teachings that appeals to many of us is “lovingkindness”. Basically, this is an attitude or a mental state that is consciously cultivated and maintained by practice. Lovingkindness is the perfect antidote to anger, fear, and selfishness. The state of mind is much more than wishful thinking or prayer. It is an active direction of attention concerned with the genuine happiness of other living beings. Instead of brushing off unhappiness with a wish and a prayer, active attention is the stronger approach.
When a person concentrates her or his full attention on the happiness of others, our physical actions then are directed by these thoughts. This is a basic law of behavioral science. We act out exactly what we think about. The idea of lovingkindness means that when we sincerely love humankind in our hearts, kindness will naturally, spontaneously direct our interpersonal actions.
When we have low opinions of someone, any “love” we direct towards her is insincere and dishonest. When we have a high opinion of a loved one, the love we feel about him is sincere and honest. If “helpful” advice and aid is of a condescending nature, the aid will be rejected because it is, at its heart, insulting. Sincerely offered, loving aid is readily accepted by others without question. This is why authentic, unconditional lovingkindness is so very effective.
If there is one takeaway for Be Kind to Humankind Week, it is an often spoken saying from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” Sometimes he distills it down to “My religion is kindness.”
Lovingkindness is tricky. We might decide to be a “nice” person. We’re all smiles and friendliness, until we’re really tested. How do we react when we encounter a rude person on the street? What is our mental response when we meet someone who does not conform to our personal, deeply held standards? Is there some emotional friction? If so, it’s time to practice some lovingkindness.
Being authentically kind is easier said than done. That is why we need to purposely practice it on a regular basis until it becomes habitual. Even so, lovingkindness will fade away if we take it for granted. Every so often, we need reminders to practice it. That’s one reason we need to make Be Kind to Humankind Week an international, actively celebrated event.