Sunday, December 30, 2018

So, We Are At The End.

Or are we at the start?

We are at the end of 2018. And for many folks that alone is worth a celebration. A lot of hard things happened in 2018.

But we are also at the start of 2019. We can make it a better year. We can make the New Year a time to celebrate a new beginning. And we can begin again to make a better world.

What would you like to do in 2019 that you didn't do this year? What would you like to do differently?

How might you be more compassionate? How might you be able to help others in ways you never have before? What might you do to make someone's world better?

That is our quest for 2019, to be better change agents for good. Where would you like to start? There are countless ways to do it. Which one will you choose?

As you celebrate over the next two days, remember to celebrate the new beginning of a better world by doing some kindness for someone. Do acts of kindness every day and your new year will be the best yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"What Did You Get?"

When I was a kid at Christmas, the kids on our block would go from one friend's house to another to see what we each got for Christmas. We'd exclaim about things we'd asked for or things we wanted but hadn't asked for. It was great if you got a sled and it was snowing. If it wasn't snowing, kids with bikes were out trying them. It was a great day for all.

But now I care more about what I gave than what I got. I love figuring out just the right thing for each person. I'm not good at wrapping, but I wrap them anyway. And put a tag with "to" and "from" on it for each gift.That's fun before Christmas. And then on Christmas I get to see people's face light up when they open their gift. For me, that is the best part of Christmas.

And these days, since our family has everything they need and most of what they want, it is more challenging. I don't have the income I used to, to can't give the really big gifts they want. So what we do now is donate to the Heifer Project in honor of each person. And we find some little thing to wrap that somehow connects to the idea of the gift. Like this year we donated a bunch of baby chicks for a nephew and put the honor card on a box of chicken dressing mix.

We gave my spouse's sister and husband tree seedlings in their honor and wrapped the honor card in a dishtowel that had a picture of a cardinal in a tree. The most challening was the nephew we donated a flock of geese in his honor. What in the world could we wrap that connected to geese? I got it! We wraped up a package of goose liver!

Changing the world, making a positive difference can be fun. What did you give this holiday that made a positive impact on someone's life?

What did you give?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Are You Ready?

So, how often have you been asked, "Are you ready for the holiday?" Well, that's not what I'm asking. I'm pretty sure you are ready, or nearly ready, for the holidays, or you would be in the next day or two.

What I'm asking is, "Are you ready to make the world better?" Don't worry. I'm not asking you to change the whole world by Friday. I'm asking if you are in the state of readiness. Are you motivated to make something good happen? 

That's all I'm really asking of you. I want you to keep the idea of doing something good in the front of your mind. Keep yourself ready to make a positive difference to someone. You don't have to change the whole world. I'm asking you to made someone's world better somehow.

It is the little acts of kindness that make a difference to the lives of others, changing their world in positive ways. So what are you doing this week to make a difference? There should be numerous opportunities during this holiday season. Make doing good a habit by doing it often.

This afternoon I'll be wrapping warm winter hats I've collected over the past month to be distributed to the more than one hundred unsheltered homeless on Christmas. Last year we collected warm neck scarves, over two hundred of them. Sound like an impossible project? Not when you ask others to help. And othere people are glad for the opportunity.

So, you see, you don't have to make the world better on your own. Together we can do amazing things. Be a catalist for good.

Are you ready?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

I Try to Imagine

Empathy requires us to stand in another's shoes and experience their situation and the emotions that go with that. I try to imagine being homeless and living on the street, under a bridge, in a camp made of tarpolians. It is really hard to imagine because I have never been so without resources that I didn't have a clean dry space to sleep.

I have been homeless a couple of times, but I always had someone who would take me in until I could get on my feet again. At night when I'm going to sleep in my soft, warm bed I wonder what it would be like to try to sleep on a piece of cardboard on concrete or on the ground in some weeds. I can't imagine doing it. If I were lucky enough to have a sleeping bag, which isn't very likely, I might manage it. But if it was raining or snowing? I don't think so.

I am grateful for my warm, dry, safe house. I'm grateful that I don't worry about where I might get my next meal. We went to the grocery store today and spent nearly $200 in groceries. If I was living on the street I couldn't carry much food even if I could buy it. And the likelihood of having a hot meal is pretty small unless I can find somewhere that they were giving out free meals. If I was new to homelessness I might not know where to go for any help.Sometimes during the day I go to the kitchen for a snack and have several choices to choose from. That sure wouldn't be possible if I were living on the street.

And what about appropriate clothes to deal with the weather? I might have a coat, but it would probably be cheap and not warm enough for winter winds. And how many changes of clothes do you think I'd have? I'd have no access to a laundry and would just wear whatever I had for as long as it held together. Clean, dry socks would be a godsend.

I might find a bed in a homeless shelter occasionally, but not always. They fill up really quickly and if you're not there at just the right time you get closed out. You have to arrange to be nearby at the time they open. That might not be possible often. And in the shelter there is only a bed, no shower or food. And you sleep with lots of people in a room, so it isn't quiet and doesn't feel very safe. It is known that your stuff gets stolen. Sometimes people get beaten up. Hard to believe, but it is often safer on the street than in a shelter.

I don't know how they manage to survive. I doubt if I could do it. That is why one of my primary causes that I support is a group that helps provide items needed for the unsheltered homeless in our area. The need is so great. I know I can't solve the overall problem, but I can provide things like new clean socks, food that doesn't have to heated, toiletries, warm hats, gloves, scarves, etc., each month.

That is my act of kindness, motivated by empathy and compassion. What's yours?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Developing Empathy

Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another. It is feeling what they feel and understanding their experience.

It is putting aside your viewpoint and trying to see things from the other person's point of view.

It is validating the other person's experience without trying to critique or change it.

It requires that you examine your own attitude and that you listen to the other person with an open mind.

It is asking what the other person would do rather than just telling them what you would do.

And, like any ability, it gets better with practice.

Compassion is the feeling you have when you are confronted with another's suffering and feel motivated to relive the other's suffering. Empathy plus compassion lead to true acts of  kindness. The other person feels valued and empowered.

Practice your empathy and compassion with the people around you. Take time to listen to their needs, follow the formula for empathy above and watch how relationships change. Start small, hear out your child's complaints. See things from their perspective. Ask what they want to do and support them in finding solutions.

There is no end of possiblities for practicing empathy. Homelessness, poverty, chronic illness, fearfulness, are to be found everywhere when you look. Make a decision to act in true kindness.

Share your experiences with other readers on the blog. Support each other in practicing empathy, compassion, and true acts of kindness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Motivates Your Acts of Kindness?

When you are walking down the street and see someone like the man above, what do you feel? What do you do? There are many feelings that may be involved if you take the moment to experience them. Most of us glance away because we don't want to have feelings that would motivate us to get involved. What might we learn about ourselves if we examined our feelings? What action might we take?

Many folks do acts of kindness out of altruism, because it is what they believe is the right thing to do. But true kindness requires empathy and compassion. There is a YouTube video that explains so much more clearly than I can. Have a look, it's only four minutes:


We need to nurture empathy and compassion in ourselves and our family, then spread it to everyone we can. That is what can change the world for the better.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Kindness 101 Homework

Last blog gave the elements of kindness. Now it is time to practice making it part of your life. Begin by taking some quiet time to think about what you need to nurture yourself. Because, being kind to yourself will help you be a kinder person overall.

How might you be kind to yourself. Consider how you are feeling these days. What would feel really good? Some time alone? Or time with special positive people? Getting to bed earlier? Getting up earlier? Playing a game with family members or friends? Seeing a funny movie? Eating healtier? Going for a run? Going for a swim? Explore the ways you can build into your week the things that nurture you as a person.

Maybe you have been wanting to start a journal but haven't taken the time. Build time into your day for half and hour of writing in your journal and getting to know yourself better. By journalling or sitting quietly, connect with the inner you. Listen to your thoughts without judging. Then think positive and encouraging thoughts.

Make a plan for taking care of you. Do something that nurtures you.

One way to be kind to others is to take time to listen to them, truly listen. What are their thoughts and dreams, what do they want out of life, what nurtures them? They may not have taken time to listen to themselves. Talking to you, a good listener, can help them find that inner person in them. But no matter what the conversation, your taking time to listen tells them that you value them. This will nurture them and the relationship with them.

Do something that nurtures someone else.

Be kind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Kindness 101

We think we know what kindness is. But it is good to look at the fundamentals of kindness to be more likely to make our acts of kindness more effective. The fundamentals, according to Atkins and Salzhauer in The Kindness Advangage: cultivating compassionate and connected children, are:
(be) Yourself

Acceptance of others as they are is a great kindness in this age of fearing and hating others for what they are when they are different from us. In order to accept others we need to be fully accepting of ourselves as we are. When this occurs we are more open to exchanging ideas and customs with others. This, then, helps bring us together. We can find ways to relate to others rather than keeping our distance. We can be aware of our differences, aknowlege them and how they contribute to our uniqueness, but we don't allow the differences to interfere with acceptance. Make connections with people who are different from you.

Commitment to making kindness a way of life for you and your family will begin to change the world. It is easy to think of being kind, but we need to act on it when given a chance. And watch for those opportunities as we encounter our world. "Being kind involves your whole being: body, mind, and heart." You may find that it is easier to see the opportuniteis to choose kindness when you are alone, but try not to ignore them when you are with someone else. That way you will be modeling kindness to others and encourage them to be more kind.

Connection with others and sharing ideas is the foundation for a meaningful relationship. Connecting with someone is about paying attention, listening, watching, and being there. "Dispite language, culture, neighborhood, or physical differences, we have the ability to connect with anyone, because at our core we are the same." When you connect, truly connect, for even a few minutes, you have a better chance to know what kind of kindness the other person needs. Sometimes making that connection is the kindness they need at that moment.

Empathy is  the abiity to understand another person's internal experience, whether you agree or disagree with that experience. Empathy is unlike sympathy, when you make assumptions about how the other person is feeling. Understanding someone else's experience requires you to listen carefully and watch closely, putting your own reactions aside and focus on the other person's experience. We can try to understand their situation from both our head and our heart, making our responses meaningfult to them. What you need may not be what they need.

Giving kindness is the action that results from your kind thoughts and your awareness of the other person's needs or wants. Giving to others benefits even the giver. It creates a positive response in our brain that makes us feel good. There are lots of ways to give, of course. And as you become more empathic your giving will become more gratifying to you and the other person as well.

Interest can lead you to opportunities for kindness. Learn more about what interests you, and look for opportunities for acts of kindness. That interest might move you to help someone or do something and become part of something greater than yourself. There are myriad causes in the world where help is needed. Find what interests you and explore its opportunities for acts of kindness.

Nurturing gives a person the feeling that someone cares.There are countless opportunities to nurture relationships with people, animals, and plants, just by noticing and doing something. Give an honest compliment, bring someone coffee or share a snack, tend to a plant with watering or fertilizing, even a handshake can be a nurturing gesture. In this busy world where folks keep their distance, human touch has become pretty rare. And with concerns about sexual harrassment people shy away from touch. There are, however, clearly friendly caring touches of a hand or shoulder to make a point or share a laugh. 

Observing is vital for learning where kindness is needed, where opportunities for acts of kindness can be found. There is much to see when we open our eyes and ears and minds to notice what otheres are doing. We may discover new things. What you observe may make you to think and act in a different way. And take time to smell the roses; be kind to yourself.

Questioning can broaden your perspective with new information. There are things we don't understand happening around us all the time. Questioning is probably the best way toward understanding and learning where acts of kindness are needed, what kinds of acts of kindness would be most appreciated. Question things that don't seem right. Investigate ways to make changes for the better.

(be) Yourself. Remember that there is no one else just like you. Everyone can offer something unique to the world. We can share our uniqueness for good in the world. Take pride in your strengths or talents so that you feel good about yourself. You are more likely to give of yourself when you value your uniqueness. Good self-esteem helps us be more engaged in our world and willing to act on the opportunities of kindness we discover.

Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.             - Eleanor Roosevelt, politician, diplomat, activist.
And one more thing that helps you to be kind is your own gratitude. When you are aware of and grateful for all that you have, no matter what your financial status, you realize that there is always something that you can give. Give your time, your talent, your money, your ideas, your attention, out of gratitude for what you already have yourself.

*This post is based on information in The Kindness Advangage: cultivating compassionate and connected children, byDale Atkins PhD, and Amanda Salzhauer, MSW.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Nurturing Kindness

Nurturing kindness makes for happier people, more harmonious homes and a healthier society. If you've been noticing the current environment you have found folks looking for happiness. Unfortunately, many are turning to unhealthy habits to look for happiness. Addictions are at epidemic proportions. While drugs or other addictive behaviors may give a momentary feeling of happiness or deaden our uncomfortable feelings, there is no happiness there. Ask any recovering addict if they were happier when they were using than when they were clear of the addiction.

Scientists/Psychologists  have studyied happiness for yearsThe look for what makes people happy, thrive, and flourish. They have found that performing positive activities, expressing gratitude or doing acts of kindness, boosts happiness.

This applies to children as well as adults. Kids that do acts of kindness on a regular basis were more sociall accepted, improved their academic experience, increase their inclusivity and make them less likely to bully othere as teens. Nurturing kindness in children is a good investment in the future of our families and community.

You can experience the "helper's high" when diectly helping others. "There is a release of endorphins, a feeling of satisfaction, and overall improvement in physical and emotional health." There are changes in the brain when people think good thoughts do kind acts, or even observe other people performing kind acts.* This is one reason that Social Media posts about actis of kindness can make us feel better when we see them than when we see posts that are negative, hateful, or cruel.

When stressed or in pain, people are looking for ways to feel better. We now know that helping others will help them too. So in a time of high stress, do something for someone else. You will feel better and they will too.

So be kind. My next post will explore the fundamentals of kindness. If you've ever experienced a negative reaction to your kindness, we will explore why.

*This post is based on the book The Kindness Advantage: cultivating compassion and connected children  by Dale Atkins, PhD and Amanda Salzhauer, MSW.