Learning to Be Kind

After 45 years of research, Aldous Huxley had this profound wisdom to share on his deathbed:

It is embarrassing to tell you this, but it seems to come down mostly to just learning to be kind.

Aldous Huxley

Kindness is a skill we develop over time. It’s difficult to be kind to yourself all the time. We’re often our worst critics. It’s easy to criticize ourselves about mistakes we’ve made or people we may have disappointed.

It’s also difficult to be kind to others when we can’t find the kindness within ourselves. That’s why it’s so important that we nurture kindness within ourselves first. And a big part of that is finding the space to forgive ourselves too.

None of us are perfect. We’ve all made mistakes and we’ve all been disappointed or even hurt by others. But if we can find a way to bring that hurt some kindness and compassion, we can show up as the person we want to become.

Psychologist, Rick Hanson, describes the brain as, “velcro for negative experiences, but teflon for positive ones.” There’s also good research that we need at least a 3:1 ratio of positive thoughts to neutralize negative thoughts.

I’d like to spend more time creating more positive and kind thoughts about myself. If our goal is to better not only ourselves but to serve others, it might be the most important thing we can do each day.

Lean into vulnerability

It’s easy to focus on the good stuff. The positive things that are happening in our lives. We feel good about the progress we’re making and the strong self image we’re building of ourselves.

But when we’re trying to connect with other people in a meaningful way it’s not the highlight reel that people want to talk about. Nor is it what helps us connect with others in a meaningful way.

Sharing our failures and our mistakes is what deepens relationships. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t about complaining about things – it’s about sharing what’s genuinely challenging us in our lives.

This isn’t easy. It requires self awareness and reflection about what’s bothering us in our lives. It also requires courage to come face-to-face with what we’re not happy about and what we’re doing about it.

Being vulnerable with others opens the door to our hearts to ourselves and others.

Build horizontal relationships

When we connect with other human beings, we have a choice. We can either create vertical or horizontal relationships.

Vertical relationships are marked by hierarchy. One person is perceived as better than the other. You might see these relationships at work, in families, and even friendships.

When we step into the world of vertical relationships, we automatically go into a mode of judging. We think: “Is this person better than us?” or “How might I please this superior?” We begin to cloud our thoughts and actions with a biased filter.

In contrast, when we approach every person we meet through the lens of horizontal relationships, we are treating them like a peer. We start conversations more openly and honestly. We’re not stuck in our own heads thinking about the other person’s agenda. We’re not there to please or impose our authority.

Building horizontal relationships is about recognizing the human-ness in each other. None of us are the same but we’re all equal. If we can treat all of our relationships in life – with our neighbours, friends, bosses, colleagues, strangers – as horizontal relationships, our lives change. We stop comparing ourselves with others and focus on the relationship with them.

The challenge is how we can adopt new habits that can help us lean into relationships that way. One way is to remind ourselves of some of our best relationships – are they vertical or horizontal? The best relationships are ones that are likely horizontal. They’re ones in which we feel a sense of togetherness, collaboration, and trust. It’s very difficult to build a relationships of trust when one person supposedly wields more power than the other.