Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Small Acts of Kindness

On June 29, I asked the following:

What small act of kindness is considered heroic in the community in which you live? Is it an accurate measure of our society?

I’ve been pondering these questions for the last two weeks and, in trying to answer, silently recorded “small” acts of kindness directed towards me.

There was my sister who remembered my long ago request for a certain birthday gift and my father who was able to stop expressing undo concern and say: whatever you do is fine by me. There was a friend who didn’t put pressure on me to visit even though she really wanted me to and another who understood my need for solitude. And, although the list continues in countless acts, I will conclude with the woman sitting beside me on the bus who stopped me from falling as I stood to leave.

These were definite acts of kindness but were they heroic?

Anne Michaels wrote that turning a blind eye to a man running (escaping) across a field was a heroic act in Nazi Germany. The witness (and the running man) could have been imprisoned if not executed for that small act of kindness.

On June 30, “vog” wrote that active, thoughtful listening (an act of kindness) was heroic.

Vog continued:
…To not let one's ego react, and to instead hold it back and let our compassion blossom, to block our own fears and denials ... to support another, yes, to me that is difficult to do, takes courage, and is self-sacrificing.

Anne Michaels’ example of kindness/heroism was in the face of physical deprivation, imprisonment and/or annihilation. Vog’s heroism is in the face of dismantling one’s ego. Both can result in death, although the latter is symbolic — letting go of a part of ourselves so to fully live; the breaking down of egoic defences (a form of death) so to live in compassion and conscious awareness.

When my father let go his worries and gave me his blessings he was, in a manner of speaking, sacrificing a way of life. He has always fretted about things but with age and, I am guessing, thoughts of his own mortality, his worries sometimes take on a life of their own. Perhaps his worrying gives him comfort or some illusionary form of control. Or maybe this way of being — retreating behind a wall of concern — is just so familiar for him that it is comfortable and a “safe” place to be. To let go of that behavior contains a certain loss and has the potential to feel like death.

By letting go, however, it allowed my father to let his love for me lead rather than the easier route of following his defences against life. His gift to me further opened my heart and we are closer because of it. In a symbolic way, he terminated a part of himself so to bring himself closer into relationship with me and, ultimately, himself. His act was heroic in that it was (and, I admit, I make assumptions) unexplored territory, fear provoking and unbalancing.

But is this determination of heroism an accurate measure of society?
Because I consider this almost simple act of my father’s heroic, does that mean I live in a self serving society, devoid of compassion and meaningful relationships? I don’t think so. Sure there are selfish and superficial people in my community but they are not special in this regard: we can all manifest these character traits on any given day. It is part of being human — we carry within us the light and the dark and all shades in between. Every moment contains a choice on how we are going to respond to life and what aspect of our inner being will be on display.

Acts of kindness, therefore, are only an accurate measure of the person giving it at that particular moment. It is not a generalized statement of who they are, nor a comment about society. It is also, interestingly, a measure of the person receiving… many such acts are ignored or met with disdain. To receive is as precious as to give.

Every time we act with kindness, heroic or not, we open up to the part of ourselves that is compassionate and that dares to live in authentic relationship with others. It is the ongoing human drama this choice we make and it is a heroic act when we make those decisions with an open heart.

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