The last few days I have spoken to several people here in Bend on the subject of kindness. It is surprisingly easy to converse with strangers in this city because the comfort level is high because the trust level is high. This is in sharp contrast to the big cities of California where I spent most of my adulthood, and yet even there the people one becomes friends with are similarly friendly. The difference here is that a heartfelt conversation can be held with a person after only a few minutes of meaningful conversation.
I met Evelyn, who was doing volunteer community work, and after five minutes we were deep into my theories of kindness. My working definition at the moment is, “A kind act helps a person achieve freedom of thought and action.” When we first started talking of kindness she started with the usual soft version of the Golden Rule, but after a bit it became obvious to both her and me that her volunteer work was doing far more than just being nice to other people so they would be nice to her. Her motivation was to help others live a better life, and since it was free labor she was giving there wasn’t going to be any economic transaction involved. She was going beyond Politeness to public; she was moving into Kindness to the public. When I was blogging about this last week, kindness was thought of as more spontaneous and not so much in terms of organized community work. This form of kindness is wonderful but because on a moment to moment basis it isn’t so conscious it isn’t so habit forming. The person doing routine community service does get some of the rewards for their kindness but not so much.
At one point I mentioned to Evelyn the idea of placing a dime under a piece of sidewalk litter rather than picking the litter up, as I sometimes do. The idea being that when someone does pick up the litter they will find the dime. She liked the idea, and saw it as a way to reward people in a small way for a public service. That is good for the litter pickerupper, but what was more valuable was the secretly placing of the dime, because it opened up new internal avenues of kindness.
Dawn was another woman doing similar community service work – just helping out. In this situation too, we talked for about twenty minutes, and after a bit about my ideas about kindness. She too began with the soft Golden Rule, but in this case too it quickly became apparent that she was living her life well beyond just being nice. She was actively striving to be helpful to others, even strangers, in social situations.
Both of these women were being genuinely pleasant people, and now that I am becoming more attuned to that quality it is becoming obvious that there is a lot of kindness here in Bend. One simple proof of how friendly people are here was demonstrated again, a couple of days ago, at the 4th of July Parade. Because the people are so friendly and open with one another, the animals respond in kind and they too are friendly. I didn’t count but there must have been a thousand dogs in that fairly small area during the parade and not a single dog fight. The most I ever even heard was some lap dogs and their usual yippiness, but it wasn’t confrontational.
The intellectual kind of conscious kindness discussed in the earlier blog posts is difficult to practice and spasmodic in opportunities, but a great part of the benefits can be had by practicing the easier form of kindness by participating in organized community events. Perhaps from that skill level it will be easier to take the more conscious steps.
Cover the basics and then upgrade.