living kindness

This entry from Jonsi with a passage from Dr. Martinez-Lewi caught onto a splinter of a memory that had been nagging me in the last few days. 
I say that narcissists are not good people because when we know what they reap in terms of human relationships, the picture is ugly. Yes, they may give money to worthy causes. Some of them are generous and that is good and praise worthy. But when we view their personal lives we see close up the psychological havoc they wreak with their spouses and children and other family members.
I think of this as The Kindness Issue. I commented once that while growing up, there wasn't an attitude within my family of serving others in simple, daily ways. My mother objects to this point of view - she countered via email that she and my dad were constantly doing things for other people like donating to food drives and putting money in the collection plate at church and sponsoring a poor child overseas. These things are true, but as Dr. Martinez-Lewi notes, it's not giving money that makes a person good. 

Things I never saw my parents do:
  • approach somebody on the street who needed help and offer assistance
  • run errands, prepare meals, or otherwise help out a friend or community member who was ill or had had a baby
  • go without something they wanted in order to give it to somebody else
  • perform random acts of kindness
  • perform hands-on service (medical missions, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, trash pick-ups)
Now, my mother says that she and my dad just didn't make sure we saw them do these things. That doesn't jive. If they had been in the habit of living kindness in their everyday lives, wouldn't I have noticed? I want my kids to see me do these things, every day. I want them to see me being kind to other people and also being kind to them. I've been challenging myself to act on kind impulses - rather than just thinking about the homeless woman on the corner near a grocery store, go up to her and talk to her, and volunteer to bring her a meal. Get involved in my community, and talk about it with my kids. Involve the kids when I can. Donate food not just when a holiday food drive calls my attention to it, but as a regular part of my grocery shopping. Accept the challenge of service trips when possible. Offer child care to friends who need a break, give my free time to somebody who needs an ear or a hug instead of rushing around on my own agenda.

But there's more. I want my kids to see me put away a shopping cart that was left in the middle of the parking lot. I want them to see me holding doors open for people. I want them to see me greeting people, offering help when it looks like it might be needed, saying encouraging things to harried parents in the check-out line. Rather than thinking about reading a book later to my kids, put down what I'm doing and read it now. Give them unsolicited hugs. Notice good things about them and tell them. I don't want them to see me doing these things so that I look good to them, but so that they learn to do these things, too.

I want my kids to feel like they have enough emotional and physical abundance to share. I want them to notice opportunities to share it. I want them to engage in the world in a loving, giving way, not in a tit-for-tat, stingy way in which one only does kind things for a tax deduction or to look good in front of others.

1 comment:

  1. I just read that post on Jonsi's blog, too.

    Can I toss in my two cents here really quick?

    It's not *just* the action of kindness but also the spirit in which it is done. My malignant narcissistic parents do all the right things. They visit the sick in hospitals, they go and comfort people in jail, they distribute food to the poor, they volunteer their time to the poor. They do everything right.

    But what has always struck me as a little "off" as a teenager then an adult is that the spirit in which they did everything seemed to lack that warmth, that "we're all brothers and sisters in this world, let's help each other out" sort of feeling. They did everything that looked right, but my parents were not particularly compassionate or gentle. It's like they did everything from on high to the very lowly.

    It sounds judgmental probably, but I've heard them help people and then talk badly about those very people at home. It's just so wrong.

    The spirit of kindness is more important than anything, and this spirit needs to infuse the acts or else it's just show.

    I have no doubt, from reading your blog that your heart is kind and that you show such kindness in your good deeds. I'm just staying that there are a lot of narcissists who DO the right thing but are horrible nonetheless. Even if your parents had shown you their good deeds, you can bet it would've smacked of something false and creepy. That's how those narcissists roll.