We live in times of great incivility, where adults in some communities are being forced into etiquette programs after physically assaulting coaches at their children's sports events. We hear widespread complaints that no one listens any more, individuals in any discussion shout and constantly interrupt each other.
One of the antidotes to these social problems is the old-fashioned virtue called kindness. In this timely and cogent volume, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg (Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience) explores this undervalued quality that is a moral standard independent of any religious adherence. The cofounder of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and the Insight Meditation Society notes: "Kindness is the fuel that helps us truly 'walk our talk' of love, a quality so easy to speak about or extol but often so hard to make real. It helps us to genuinely care for one another and for ourselves as well. Kindness is the foundation of unselfconscious generosity, natural inclusivity and an unfeigned integrity."
Salzberg points out that kindness in our competitive culture does not rank very high when stacked alongside brains, wit, invulnerability, power over others, and irony. On a personal level, our deep-seated patterns of fear and jealously often make it difficult to be kind in our daily lives. Up against such strong cultural disdain and internal energies, this spiritual practice demands a strong commitment and constant intentional thrust to find the light of day. That is why Salzberg presents so many meditations and practical suggestions on how to activate kindness in our everyday rounds.
One of the the Dalai Lama's most famous quotations is "My religion is kindness." He exudes the kind of joy that comes from compassion in action where the loud voices of "I, me, mine" are silenced, and others are put first. But Salzberg says this can only happen when we learn to develop kindness towards ourselves. The dualistic mind divides the world into "us and them" and provides us with the rationale to remain indifferent to others. Kindness provides a path to living that puts cruelty in its place as a negative force that leads only to the suffering and pain of everyone.
A friend once told the author: "You really want to be a rebel: practice kindness." That's a good basic instruction for this era of incivility. Whenever you have the chance, thank people for what they have done for you. Do not speak ill of people who are not present in the conversation. Really listen to someone you find irritating or annoying. These are all examples Salzberg gives of the link between ethics and kindness. This spiritual practice can be a force that changes lives. Just give it more of a chance and you will see wonders blooming from your caring, compassion, and love.
A CD at the back of the book contains four meditations: (1) Lovingkindness toward ourselves, (2) Lovingkindness toward others, (3) Lovingkindness for all beings, and (4) Mindfulness practice: Meditating with the force of kindness.