People are generally good, kind, trustworthy, and thoughtful, even total strangers. Don't let a few bad apples spoil the entire crop.
A banana cuts like a banana no matter where you live. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Boston or Sydney or Kathmandu: when you peel a banana with your hands and slice it with a knife, it responds in exactly the same way.
Does this seem obvious? It shouldn’t.
Think about it: you can travel across the entire planet to faraway places where language and culture become alien and where your previous understanding of the world no longer applies.
You can find places where cars drive in the opposite direction, where numbers suddenly change their meaning, and where light switches are on in the off position.
You can find places where a blanket is not just a blanket but a lifeline; where an empty bottle is a shower-head; a shaded sidewalk is a home; a large bucket of water is a source of life; and where cats and dogs are not just domesticated pets to be loved, but food.
Even how you define life and death can change depending on where you go. For some, death brings a sense of loss and represents a time for mourning. For others, death represents a time for celebration and funerals are a way of celebrating life.
But a banana still cuts like a banana. The water in your teacup still responds to your movements in exactly the same way. Birds fly through the air using the same principles of flight they used millions of years ago.
In my travels I can always find things that are different, things that don’t match up with what I already know. It’s not easy to accept those things, to lean into the discomfort of embracing the unknown. But the more I embrace the unknown, the more I find myself recognizing universal truths.
Laughter still feels like laughter no matter where I go. Kindness feels like kindness and authenticity feels like authenticity. It doesn’t matter who it comes from or how alien my surroundings.
The realness of those things doesn’t require thought or thinking; attempting to impose expectations of how they’re supposed to be only clouds the simplicity of their truth.
The truth is, when it’s real, you’ll feel it.
What universal truths have you felt?
Sui Solitaire recently released Kindness Sprouts, a collaborative ebook of kindness and self-care. (She's generously giving all proceeds directly to charity.)
Sui invited me to contribute to the project and asked me to answer the following question, How do you show yourself kindness? This was my response:
I show myself kindness by having the courage to eliminate things from my life that are causing me distress and dissatisfaction. I spent many years feeling caged by my job and caged by my lifestyle. I pushed off doing what I knew needed to be done and sacrificed my own happiness, and for what? For the satisfaction and comfort of everyone else? To conform to what others thought was the best thing for me?
I began showing myself kindness when I started listening to and caring about what my heart and soul were telling me. I began showing myself kindness when I found the courage to be brave and challenge what others expected of me.
When I gained the confidence to believe in my own dreams and stand up to the expectations of others, I discovered that I also needed to learn how to stand up to my own self-imposed expectations. I love technology and I spend many hours of the day working at the computer. When I find myself getting agitated with how much time I've spent in front of the screen, I don't let myself justify the discomfort by saying “that's just what I do.” Instead of being unkind to myself, I walk outside, put my hand on the trunk of a big tree, look up at its outstretched arms, and allow myself to reconnect with mother nature; I allow myself to really feel one with the universe. I'm immediately reminded that being kind to myself is being kind to the world.
Interestingly, ever since writing this for Sui's project I've been going out of my way each morning to spend time in the forest. I drive about twenty minutes to the local state forest and just walk, usually for at least an hour, with my phone turned off and my mind open. My day feels more complete when I start it walking in the forest.
If you were a guest in someone's home, would you criticize your host behind their back? If you were invited in and you accepted that invitation, would you be rude or judgmental or act superior?
Now let's say your host prepared a nice meal and then and gave you a nice comfortable room in which to sleep.
Let's also say that you were aware ahead of time that money was tight for your host. You knew they incurred extra expenses hosting you, buying the ingredients for dinner and cleaning and preparing your room to make you comfortable.
Before going on your way, you gave them some money as reimbursement for their help. You included a bit extra as a way of saying thank you for their service, their kindness, and their willingness to host you.
Now how much different is what I just described from any restaurant or hotel you may visit? How is it different from any service-oriented business?
There are few things that irk me as much as observing guests in a restaurant, hotel, or any business for that matter, criticizing their hosts, talking behind their backs, and acting like they, despite being a guest, are somehow superior.
Adding money to the equation does not make you superior. It does not give you the right to act rude or judgmental. Adding negative energy to the situation by acting superior only enhances the coarseness of all the interactions; it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you're invited and you accept, leave money out of the equation. If you don't like the service you're offered, leave. But if you do accept the invitation, remember that you're a guest. Show your respect. You may be surprised by how much a change in your attitude affects the service.