what is kindness?

I have returned from the Asia-Pacific Library and Information Conference where I had many wonderful experiences, including a conversation with Kathryn Greenhill of Curtin University about kindness and libraries (one of Kathryn’s research interests). It was so exciting to meet and talk with someone with similar interests, and I can’t wait to read Kathryn’s research. For now though I want to gather together all the thoughts and opinions about kindness that I wasn’t even aware that I had before our conversation and give them some shape. What that might look like in a library is to come!

So, for me, kindness is,

Kindness is an expression of love, it is love in action. The love in action is love for me and for you.

Kindness is a cyclical process with distinctive ‘phases’ (this bit totally informed by nonviolent communication):

  • You notice that I have an unmet need – maybe you hear me tell you directly; maybe you sense something is amiss.
  • You communicate with me to clarify my need.
  • You consider whether assisting me to meet my needs might satisfy a need of your own.
  • If you decide to go ahead, we negotiate and commit to some action that will meet our needs.
  • We are both rewarded. Needs are met — perhaps not the original need you noticed, perhaps the need might be simple recognition, acknowledgement, or to matter to someone. Perhaps we start all over again…

Interruption: But what is a need?

A need is a value we hold dear in a particular moment. Connection, respect, safety, fun, self-expression – there are hundreds of needs. A nice list is available from the Centre for Nonviolent Communication

Kindness is characterised by particular needs, including

  • Love and respect for self and other. We agree on an action – it is not decided by one person and imposed on another.
  • Curiosity. You are genuinely curious to hear what it is that I am needing. You are willing to listen.
  • Vulnerability. Kindness is risky. You and I may need to take part in one or more open and honest conversations. We might even discuss feelings. We might take actions we may not usually take. Sometimes I will have to confront and let go of some preconceived ideas about you. This may be painful.
  • Mutuality. Everyone gains something: an opportunity to contribute perhaps.

Kindness is effortful, involving work and growth. I am actively learning about you and me, about what it means to be human, to be connected to another.

Kindness is a wellspring. Because all involved benefit from the kind action, it regenerates itself. Kindness is thus root, trunk, leaf, and seed.

Kindness is a spiritual practice: a way of observing the world around me and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things, of all things including me.

Kindness is itself a human need.

Kindness might also be:

  • “I’m just doing my job.” Yes, my job is what I get paid to do, but if my actions can be mapped to the descriptions above it is kindness.
  • “I’m just doing what anyone else would have done in the circumstance.” Yes, and if it maps to the description above it is kindness

Finally, kindness might look like but is not:

  • Actions motivated by sympathy, pity, guilt
  • Actions born of power or privilege – charity that imposes a gift upon another, something I don’t need plus an expectation of gratitude
  • Kind people/unkind people, just moments where we any person is or is not inspired by their own need to connect, contribute, to express kindness.

What did I miss? Is there something in particular that did or did not resonate for you? All comments appreciated 🙂

vulnerability

This is a close-up phtograph of a slug in a field of poppies. The slug is reaching from one poppy stalk to a flower on another stalk. Theorange poppy the slug reached toward is the brightest object in the photo.
Slug. Some rights reserved by Joi (Flickr).

I’ve gotten stuck. One post into my re-imagining myself as metta-librarian: an academic librarian exploring the transpersonal, I find myself unable to press publish on my latest post. The truth is I’m scared. I’m scared people will say oh my god, what right does she have to talk about that stuff, she doesn’t own that, she doesn’t have her act together, she hasn’t been mindful once and really sometimes she is a bit of a bitch!

At least that’s what I tell myself.

So, I gingerly poked my fear with a stick, I turned it upside down to see what was underneath. And of course it was a nasty case of vulnerability! Here I am wanting to explore and share all this beautiful stuff that makes my world a better place but exposing myself to the judgement and opinions of others is so frightening.

So I found and watched this excellent Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability. I thought, I can see being vulnerable is necessary for me to make meaningful connections with others, but I’m 49 already, I don’t want to do a year of therapy to deal with this stuff… How can I establish a feeling of safety now?

There is no deep and meaningful answer. I used humour:  I reminded myself that I have been blogging more than 15 years and my average post gets 8 views and 4 likes. Only one person I know in real life regularly reads this blog and she is my daughter. And the excellent folk who regularly like and comment on my posts have tolerated a variety of ramblings from me without complaint. *Feeling much better now, I continued: Furthermore, if and when I do get an audience of librarian-types, or transpersonal types, I will have posted heaps, got my act totally together and just generally be awesome!   That made me laugh too. Ho ho ho!

Even though I still feel a little scared, I hereby give myself permission to press ‘publish.’

*I am not being sarcastic. Introverts reaching out are always a little relieved by an underwhelming response. (According to the results of my self-case study 🙂 )

photo credit

Slug. Some rights reserved by Joi

This awesome photo of a slug being vulnerable and courageous was shared by Joi Ito on Flickr. Thanks Joi!

my xmas revelation

Yesterday I had a beautiful Christmas revelation.

I was beating myself up because even after all the Landmark, the nonviolent communication and the transpersonal philosophy, I was still experiencing some hurt over a little comment made by my mother.

For Christ’s sake – how pathetic – and when will I finally be enlightened!

I then imagined myself surrounded by the Xmas chaos, in the midst of screaming kids, barking dogs, people complaining about kids, dogs, and people complaining about kids and dogs. And people complaining about people complaining about kids and dogs. And there is me in the midst of it all – serene, calm, totally at peace with the world – present, but not engaging in all this icky messiness.

And I just started to laugh. I mean, as if.

I just had to stop writing and laugh again: Ho ho ho!

And then I thought We are spiritual being having the human experience. And I actually got it. I am just having the human experience. And just like a Contiki tour, this experience will include joy and pain, satisfaction – and so many regrets. Ho ho!

I am going to feel feelings – all the bloody time! I am going to try and grasp onto some of the fun feelings and give myself a bloody great rope burn even though I know better!

That’s what humans do!

I am going to run away from pain, even though I know that pain cannot be run from and that I am running in circles and will eventually trip over the pain and stub my toe and really have something to cry about.

Sometimes, being human hurts.

And sometimes I will cry. Sometimes I will curse. Sometimes I will blame others for my predicaments. And then I will get exasperated with myself for not being more enlightened.  And then I will remember all over again, and I will laugh. Ho ho!

What a ride!

Ho ho ho – Merry Bloody Xmas!!

Snail
Eli Duke. Snail. CC BY-SA 2.0

MVP communication

I have recently encountered the phrase: minimum viable product and its acronym: MVP. For me the phrase connotes a certain ‘hastily thrown together in a dark room by people who know little and care less’  quality. There is a more benign interpretation, but my first impression is much more fun, and I thought I’d apply it to communication, and then consider other applications. Continue reading “MVP communication”

In search of my human nature

It is our psychic needs and the feelings that accompany them that are at the root of human nature. (Mary E Clark)

My Gran is old and frail. For 90 years she has been tough and fiercely independent but today she finds herself in an old people’s hostel. She eats what she is fed, goes to bed and rises according to the routines of the institution and occasionally needs assistance to bathe and dress herself.  Despite the pleasant and caring hostel environment, this has not been a happy or easy time for Gran, so her extended family makes the effort to support her as best we can. We visit Gran daily, provide her with little luxuries, and bust her out for a visit to the hairdresser or cafe.

Taking care of Gran in the midst of all our other responsibilities can be quite an effort. And yet we do it. I think it is a normal human activity to look after the elderly as best we can. If you disagree, think of the deep emotions – sadness and outrage – expressed by the community when elder neglect and abuse is reported. However, looking after the frail elderly contradicts accepted understandings of human nature as expressed by Richard Dawkins that is, that human nature is essentially selfish, that we are motivated to act only to further our own interests, to ensure the survival of our offspring at the expense of others. Our behaviour makes no sense according to the selfish gene.

So, are we human beings intrinsically selfish, competitive and even violent? Mary Clark argues no. We are in all likelihood evolved with more capacity for kindness, cooperation and reconciliation than for aggression. There is much hope for those interested in nonviolence in her book: In search of human nature.

Continue reading “In search of my human nature”

Fighting Hanson is superficial

Vote counting for the Federal election resumes today but we already know that  Pauline Hanson will be returning to our Senate. Hanson’s politics are frequently labelled racist and she certainly provided evidence of this in her book The truth.  Hanson is also a climate change denier. Despite this, my heart sank when I read the headline: Greens vow to fight Pauline Hanson Why am I upset by this promise of opposition to racism and environmental chaos? It’s because I want my party to do more than fight.

I want the Greens to do more that create political huff and puff and bad feelings. I want my party to use principles of nonviolence to communicate with the people and communities that support Hanson and to participate in resolving the issues that these people are facing. I believe we could use this as an opportunity to create some real, powerful and sustained changes in our communities. Most importantly, such changes could be owned and directed by the people we make enemies of when we fight Hanson. Continue reading “Fighting Hanson is superficial”

Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication and Boulding’s integrative function of power

Boulding named an integrative function of power that operates across the three faces of power: threat, exchange and love. This integrative function acts to bind, to inspire loyalty and to create community. The integrative function acts through a number of structures. These structures include:

  • trust, communication, courtesy and
  • pride, guilt, shame,

Boulding recognised that neither power with the face of love nor the integrative structure was necessarily positive but did not clearly distinguish between the structures. The practice of nonviolent communication (nvc) as described by Rosenberg can be used to  distinguish these integrative structures in the space between requests and demands. Continue reading “Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication and Boulding’s integrative function of power”