"...astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness" ~ Maya Angelou
n’t necessarily subscribe to Maya Angelou’s view here that our world is a mean one. Call me romantic, or fanciful, or whatever you will, but I nearly always fall on Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s side of this: knowing it, as I do, (and I am deeply aware of my privilege here), to be a wonderful world.
I like to imagine that it would be possible to do this piece of research (I also know that it’s unlikely we will ever be able): we measure every act of human interaction that takes place on Planet Earth in one day. Every single one. And then we count up: how many were mean? How many were acts of kindness, generosity, tenderness, goodness? With no scientific basis on which to posit my view, I still firmly believe we’d find the good outweighed the bad many times over. I have to say I’m fairly convinced of this.
Having said that, I do know what she means…I think.
I spent quite a bit of my 20’s decade participating in self-development programmes of an ontological character. In these workshops and seminars, I learned many distinctions on what was referred to as the being of being human. The stuff that is innate, not personal, and applies to the very nature of who we are. The ideas provided me with a profound foundation from which I have tried (that being an operative word, I must say) to live my life. It’s ok. I’m down with that: the learning is in the failing. They don’t call them growing pains for nothing.
Funnily enough, one of the most profound of these lessons (and that’s a difficult summation to make) was the very notion that failing is a useful thing to do. Well, that was such a relief to hear that I think I may have taken the lesson a bit too much to heart and proceeded to fail rather spectacularly for the next 40 years! Don’t get me wrong – I also succeeded with equal panache, for that is, indeed, the point of this lesson. It is the falling over that teaches the toddler to walk. Avoiding failure produces a brittle and terrified psyche, because it is not real – and the mind likes reality in order to function at its best.
Failure and vulnerability and need: this trio of the human experience – unattractive as it may seem at first glance, is – in my experience – a recipe for developing yourself into the kind of human being who can respond to Maya Angelou’s invitation. Avoiding these experiences turns us neurotic, and yes – mean. Lashing out from our places of need to avoid being seen. I’ve been seeing this a lot recently. It’s not pretty.
Try this out: ask yourself any one, or all, of these questions: what are you assuming that stops you from allowing yourself to fail? What are you assuming that stops you from being vulnerable? What are you assuming that stops you from revealing your most tender needs to another? What, in the moment of needing to reach out and let yourself be seen as falling short in response to a situation that you are facing in your life, stops you from asking for the help, the support, the kindness you need?
Knowing the Thinking Session as I do, I’ll put money down right here, that whatever your answers are to these questions, they will be untrue assumptions. And even if they are possibly true, there will be an untrue assumption hidden by the possibly true ones, which if found and replaced would make it safe and make you intrepid enough to open up to the possibility of being astonished, by how much kindness there is out there.
“Now more than ever...” How often do you hear that expression these days? Whether it’s true or not, whether it is more than ever I don’t know, but I am very enrolled in another of the ideas that came from those long-ago workshops.
Stop making things (people, life, yourself) wrong. It’s a terrible human habit. Oh, I know, it’s all tied up in survival – I understand. If we imagine the worst, if we are skeptical and mistrusting and mean before the other can get there first, we might be less wounded. Well, that’s nonsense, isn’t it. You still feel disappointed anyway – it’s an illogical strategy that creates a very vicious circle.
Let’s not bother with that one. Let’s make right instead: especially in our moments of perceived weakness and need. Let’s make it right that we are confused, lonely, hurt, uncertain, in pain – and ask for what we need. Let’s just try. What if we find out that what happens, more often than not, is that we get astonished with kindness? I like it. I’m going to give it a go!
Who’s with me? What do you think?