Kindness and compassion are two traits that I personally value high up on the proverbial moral list. I have the great fortune to be close to many individuals who posses both of these, and the absolute honor to work with children with disabilities and among their communities where they are found in spades.
I sincerely believe that each generation has seen the progression of our species and discovered with it an innate and creeping fear – we manage to embark on new territory with frightening (and seemingly increasing) speed. As a Martial Artist part of me feels that the world has become more dangerous, and there is ever more opportunity to abuse and to bully – the forums are countless, whereas…once upon a time…they did not exist. (Think social media, internet chat rooms, cell phones etc…) It’s hard not to see the glaring negatives.
But…my mind is admittedly wired to be overly optimistic. That doesn’t mean I am not based in reality, or that I don’t take life seriously (whether it be bills or the threat of being car jacked.) But I see the immense value in keeping a positive outlook as much as is humanly possible because I have seen the tangible impact it can have. This week I am completely down for the count with a kidney infection – couldn’t say where it came from, but I confess it has been quite painful and body-rocking. I’m a dreadful bore to be around, slow-moving, and probably not smiling a ton… But I feel thankful. I see the good.
For one thing, I feel blessed to have the help and care that I do from my husband and appreciate feeling love from my family. As importantly, I recognize that I’m not terminally ill! I have all my limbs. I have all my senses. I haven’t been jumping for joy, certainly, but I have not lost sight of the fact that this is a short bout. I have nothing to complain about, and certainly no right to be yelling at anyone, nor taking out my frustration in a negative way. This was an out-of-the-blue lesson, as often they seem to be.
I also think sometimes the Universe wants to say, “I really think you need to slow down for a minute because YOU won’t on your own!” Frustrating that may be for a personality type like mine, I have to accept it. It’s not a fun stroll in the park, but there is value in having to slow down (or flat out rest.) There is an additional benefit in that it reminds me that I need to be kind and compassionate to myself – it’s okay to rest.
Even when I feel horrendous, I know how blessed I am. It’s important to say thank you to my loved ones to express my gratitude for the kindness they show me, or others along the way. For instance, I appreciated that the ladies at the blood lab were as sweet as they were – it was a little thing, but they were kind, and I noticed. I even appreciate the people who make the amazing whole wheat english muffins I’m eating.
The world is a tough place – whether more or less so than the past, who knows… I think each era comes with some pretty challenging circumstances. But we don’t have to be bitter, or treat others unkindly. We don’t have to abort compassion to buffer ourselves, or lash out in response to someone else’s poor understanding of proper human interaction. Lofty it may sound, and perhaps also unrealistically utopian, I truly believe that the more compassion and kindness people show one another, the better off we all would be.
I live in a tough town. Some days I really notice the effect… My DNA defaults to seeing the world from someone else’s lens (or trying to), and to coloring everything with an empathetic heart. But there are days I feel like an angered animal in my own skin and I sincerely chalk it up to the environment (40 years of living with me gives me good insights when engrained M.O.s are changing.) It’s an interesting experiment in a way – incredibly enlightening, and I’ve welcomed the learning. It has taught me just how valuable it is to maintain my own standard of airing on the side of kindness. Why? I don’t want to contribute to the downfall I see around me (and I don’t want to be pulled further into the depths with it.)
My recent travel was also quite a fiasco, between cancellations, unexpected delays, missing connections… I was tired and frustrated but yelling doesn’t help anyone in a situation like that – it wasn’t the gate agents at the airport who were responsible. It wasn’t the pilot or stewardesses… Various people kept asking why I was smiling and it occurred to me that I guess most people don’t (a fact that actually made me feel sad.)
I didn’t really know who was to be held accountable in all cases (two planes themselves for breaking? A mechanic long gone who maybe could have done a better job? A supervisor who should have triple checked the panel work?) But would it matter if I did know who was at fault? Not really… There was no sense in getting crazy because at that moment all I could do was be resourceful and figure out my next move. I couldn’t control the external circumstances, only how I was going to react to it. I wasn’t trying to catch a flight to Tokyo, I wasn’t stuck in a hostile territory (well…that can be debated!), and I knew I’d figure out a way to get to my destination at least in 24 hours.
Having compassion and kindness for the players involved encouraged them, also, to have the same for me. And they did. They took care of a lot for me, including arranging a long drive to get me to my destination and sending me a credit for inconvenience – I saw them feverishly trying to get my bag pulled at one point… They were legitimately putting in the effort (which we should be honest doesn’t always happen these days even if it is at the common core of a job description.)
I spent 20 minutes on the phone after the fact waiting for a manager so I could commend the key people who helped – I could tell that acknowledgement and appreciation would matter to them, and a kind word can go a long way. I sent an e-mail doing the same just to be sure it got to the right people. Will I ever see those agents again? Probably not. Does it matter? Absolutely not. To spread kindness and compassion doesn’t take a lot – in fact, I’d argue it takes less than to hate, to be angry, and to yell. But it changes lives. It makes people want to return the favor, to work hard…it helps them to feel good about their contribution and to, therefore, continue making a positive one.
If everyone could do the same, the environment would shift dramatically. Though it isn’t realistic to expect everyone to eagerly jump on board with a “love more, hate less!” hippie-like mantra, it doesn’t hurt to live that example as much as we can. And it doesn’t mean we can’t seek out environments which are more in tune with these principles – it is impossible not to feel the shift when compassion and kindness are blooming in spades around you, and when you recognize that there is a choice about what we do with what’s presented to us.
Some days it seems like we only focus on how much farther we have to go. We beat ourselves up with “what if”s and “should”s, which not only clouds the joys of the present, but distorts our thoughts so much that doldrums are all we see. And that spiral will permeate every aspect of our lives. . .
Life as adults comes with so much responsibility… But, it also comes with immeasurable happiness. We get to learn every day, we get to make our own choices, we get to make a real difference by positively impacting the world around us. And…we likely make a lot more progress than we remember to give ourselves credit for.
If only for today…
Instead of looking down a long path ahead (one, by the way, you cannot predict, so why worry?), think about the distance you’ve already travelled.
. . . Remember how many times you battled adversity and came out the other side – victorious!
. . . Remember all the things you have done to be the beautiful person you are today, who contributes so positively to the world…
. . . Remember how much you are loved
. . . Think about how far you have journeyed and revel in the “damn, right, I’m amazing!”
You deserve to be acknowledged…and most importantly by yourself.
I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.
I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.
It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)
Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)
For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.
I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)
Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.
- In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
- I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
- I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
- When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
- I treat everyone equally
- I speak in a firm but respectful tone
- I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
- Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!
My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.
In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves.
There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.
We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life.
Empathy and compassion matter.
Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.
Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.