Try a Little Kindness in 2022
Brandon Sun, January 3, 2022 - David McConkey
For the new year, I offer a
book suggestion that may resonate with some of you. But I bet even
more of you will roll your eyes. Even facing some eye rolling, I
will plunge forward with some musings.
The book is A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You. It was authored in 2018 by Donna Cameron, an American writer who works in the field of consulting and management with non-profit organizations.
Why do I imagine that many readers right now are rolling their eyes? Because this is one of those syrupy, schmaltzy, self-help books. And, to boot, it is one of those books chronicling “a year of living . . .”
The book is laid out to be read weekly over a year in 52 chapters. The chapters begin with an inspiring epigraph. They go on to explore various challenges, advantages and contemplations of being kind. Examples are kindness being related to gratitude and being kind to people we don’t like. Chapters wind up with suggestions to improve your life with “kindness in action.”
The book is further separated into four “seasons.” There is the “season of discovery,” the “season of understanding,” the “season of choosing,” and the “season of becoming.”
If your eyes are still rolling, then don’t get or read this book. And don’t borrow it from the Brandon Public Library, which is where I discovered it.
I understand the eye rolling and it points to a conundrum. On opinion pages like this one, it is easy to consider topics relating to political, economic or other problems. It is much harder to look at loftier or more positive topics. Like, what is this all for? What are some solutions? How do you live a good life?
Of course, reading about and reflecting on these big ideas is a good thing. But even a description of a big topic can end up sounding simplistic, clichéd, contrived. Take, as an example, “a year of living kindly.”
Anyway, I would like to summarize four learnings I have drawn from this book and from other sources. Learnings that I think are appropriate for the start of a new year, the midst of a pandemic or – really – any old time.
My first learning is that kindness is vital to both individual well-being and societal health. Practising kindness is good not only for us in a spiritual sense, but also physically and mentally. We feel good and we are rewarded by such bonuses as reduced stress, improved immune system, slowed aging and lowered blood pressure. Talk about a win-win!
Second, our efforts at kindness are nourished by attention from both the heart and the head. Being kind does not always come to us naturally. We benefit by becoming more aware of kindness, and by working to strengthen our “kindness muscle.” But the kindness that grows out of our natural empathy can be limited. There is a role here for employing concepts like “rational compassion” and “effective altruism.”
Third, kindness is best when it includes oneself. Self-compassion is best understood not as being selfish, but instead as building a foundation for compassion in general. “If we cannot be kind to ourselves,” Cameron writes, “we have little to offer others.”
Self-compassion runs counter to a common theme at this time of year. For instance, a popular New Year's resolution is to lose weight. But, for most folks, this is not being kind to oneself or even a practical idea. Diets almost never succeed. So, likely, trying to lose weight is imposing an impossible burden on yourself.
A much better approach than trying to lose weight is tuning into the notion of “intuitive eating.” A key insight of intuitive eating is the power of setting aside “self-control” and instead embracing “self-care.” In other words, be kind to yourself. Why not try that as a New Year's resolution?
Fourth, kindness is a good response to our often bitter, hateful and angry civic discourse. Kindness can be a framework for dealing with those with whom we disagree.
Other people can stubbornly cling to terrible ideas. Yes, we should be open-minded and listen to other perspectives. But we must challenge what we perceive as wrong. At the same time, we can respect the humanity of the people holding those bad ideas.
Here’s my mantra for the kind citizen: with ideas, be tough; with people, be gentle.
For me, the benefit of thinking about and working on exercising kindness is the value of books like A Year of Living Kindly. But whether you are nodding your head or rolling your eyes, I wish you kindness in the new year.
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