"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." -- The Dalai Lama
An offering of food is a widely understood vehicle to express kindness. We bring homemade soup to the infirm and freezer-ready casseroles to the grieving. We bake cakes and throw special dinners in celebration, and donate our cupcakes to the bake sale's cause. We offer tea and sympathy to a troubled friend, a cookie to an upset child, and donate canned goods to relief organizations.
While the idea of kindness has a sweet, basic simplicity, the actual act being kind can be challenging and complex. What does it mean to be kind, what does it look like? As any parent knows, it's not necessarily about giving someone what they want. Instead, it might more to do with understanding what it is that they need.
But in order to know what someone needs, we have to have a degree of intimacy with them or their circumstance, some form empathetic understanding of their situation, be it their suffering or their celebration. We have to be willing to get close. Kindness without intimacy can quickly veer into well-intentioned but ultimately painful mistakes or, even worse, acts of pity.
Several years ago I was involved in a program where a group of people gathered on a Sunday afternoon to make bag lunches for people living on the streets. We stuffed dozens of paper sacks with cartons of soup and cheese sandwiches and beautiful crisp organic apples. A friend who has a lot more experience with feeding people on the streets stopped by to help. "Next time," she said to me, "no apples." "No apples? But these are delicious and healthy and organic!" "Not everyone on the streets has access to good dental care. You need teeth, healthy teeth, to eat an apple. Next time, try bananas."
So, yes, kindness can get a little tricky sometimes and even with the best of intentions, we make mistakes. Maybe the important thing is to keep asking the question "is this kind?" and each time, finding the answer in the circumstances at hand. In the end, no matter what we're doing or which decision we're making, it's a pretty worthy question to ask. And not a bad way to live.
Do you consider your kitchen a place of kindness, or the potential for kindness? How so?
Related: Weekend Meditation: The Bake Sale Response
(Image: Dana Velden)