Choice vs. Obligation: Intention is Everything

What’s the difference between being a yes-person and being a kind person? I was faced with this tricky question recently. Afer pondering it for a little while, I came to the conclusion that it is all about intention. As I have talked about before, I am a recovering people-pleaser. I used to constantly say yes when I really wanted to say no. I would feel obligated to do whatever would make the other person/people happy, no matter how miserable and resentful it might make me feel. And in my experience doing something for someone else when you don’t want to almost always makes you miserable.

Have you ever said yes to a party invitation when you really desperately just wanted to veg out on the couch? How much did you enjoy that party? And how much did you add to the party for the host and other guests? My guess is not much on both counts. So it wasn’t a kindness to the other party-goers and it certainly wasn’t a kindness to you. Saying yes to everything and anything is just not healthy.

So how could a year of kindness (essentially consciously trying to make someone else happy each and every day) actually be good for a chronic yes-person? Because for me it meant that giving is no longer an obligation, it is a choice. A choice that I make over again each day. I decide to look out for opportunities to be kind, and then if I am sure it will be no skin off my nose, and that I expect nothing from the recipient, I take the opportunity. If it feels like an obligation or a chore, I simply don’t do it. If I have a day when I feel so overstretched that I don’t have anything left to give, I decide to take it easy and be kind to myself instead.

After starting this project I quickly realised that if I’m feeling obligated to be kind then I am far more likely to take it personally if the recipient of my kindness is ungrateful or unappreciative. Giving with a negative intention (because you feel you “should”, to get something out of it, to make someone think better of you) is not really a kindness to anyone. Because eventually you will feel so resentful you’ll explode, or you will burn out, or you will simply forget that you actually have any wants or needs of your own. And all of these scenarios will actually prevent you from giving fully to others.

So the next time you are about to say “yes” to something, please stop
and ask yourself, is it because you feel obligated or can you genuinely say is it an easy and happy choice?

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The Power of a Post-It


One of my favourite children’s books is When I’m Feeling Sad by Tracey Maroney. There is a line in the book that describes sadness as something which makes the whole world seem grey and dull and droopy. A perfect explanation of how our mind can shape our reality. And a perfect description of how things looked to me (and probably many others) on September 11th. I didn’t want things to look grey on that day – I wanted to see colour and resilience and joy everywhere. I didn’t want to feel sad, either – I wanted to feel inspired and motivated to perform a beautiful act of kindness on the anniversary of the most unkind act imaginable. But there it was: everywhere I turned, there were grey buildings, grey faces, grey thoughts. Sometimes the sadness and the greyness is just too big.

And then a few days later I remembered that whatever I wanted to see in the world, I could help to create it. If I wanted to be reminded that we live in a beautiful, colourful, joyful world, the best way was to remind others. So armed with some sparkly pens and pretty post-its, my friend K and I waged a kindness campaign against all the most grey and dreary objects we could find. We put love in phone booths, smiles on tables, positivity at bus stops and happiness on park benches …

We imagined people as they sat down at the table, stepped into the booth to make a phone call or sat down to wait for a bus, each one stopping for a moment as they found a little handwritten note. We knew at least some of them would smile. And suddenly, just like that, the world seemed a lot less grey.

Is This Progress?

“It’s a funny thing that medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

We like to think that as a species humans are forever moving forward onto bigger and better and faster and smarter things. We stand on the shoulders of giants and create iphones and clone animals and invent cars that park themselves. We are forever acquiring new information, ideas and solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had. We are progressing. Of course we are. Right?

Well, if you ask Faye, someone well into her nineties who has lived through some of the toughest times in human history, it all depends on your definition of progress. I first met Faye about a month ago for my 100th Kindness mission to visit someone in hospital who doesn’t get many visitors. It was an incredibly moving experience meeting her and hearing her stories. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the thought of someone taking the time to visit her and bring her flowers. And over the weekend I was able to track her down again after much confusion, calling around and getting lost (the hospital told me she was at the retirement home who told me she was at the hospital …) It was wonderful to see her again, to share a cup of tea and her
favourite pecan pie and talk about everything and anything. She was so grateful that I had come to visit again and I said I would love to visit her regularly if she would like me to. Faye said that since she had never had a granddaughter and I was missing my grandmother, it surely wasn’t a coincidence that we had met each other.

She is a beautiful, warm, positive person, endlessly upbeat and uncomplaining despite the many hardships she has faced and many ailments that make life difficult. And yet, on the topic of the world today (and tomorrow) she could find little to be hopeful about. She shook her head as she talked about the madness she saw on the evening news. She couldn’t help but think that humanity itself was going backwards at a rapid rate, because in general people don’t look after one another anymore and everybody seems so angry and so violent. She pointed out the irony that “medicine and science and technology have come so far, but people haven’t progressed.”

I wanted to dispute her, of course. I wanted to tell her that it’s not just the minority that are progressing, thatmost people are becoming better and more enlightened and more compassionate. But as I was trying to pull together some kind of argument for this it struck me like an avalanche: I don’t have one. What words could possibly lessen the evils of riots and dictatorships and war that are going on right now? There is nothing anyone can say or do to take away the horror and inhumanity of what goes on in our world every single minute of every single day.

I could not give her any real evidence of the goodness in the world, all I could tell her was what I believe. I believe there is just as much good in the world as bad, we just don’t hear about it because it is not
considered newsworthy. I believe that in the same heartbeat as all the death and destruction and fear and hatred there is also equal amounts of selflessness and compassion and kindness and love. But I don’t know this, I have no real evidence that is true; I only hope with my whole heart that it is. But as much as my heart had been lifted by seeing her, as I left Faye shuffling slowly back to her hospital bed to eat her tasteless hospital dinner with scenes of chaos on the muted television that could have been any number of countries I felt my heart sink. There was the avalanche of heavy realisation again – what possible goodness could even come close to counter balancing all the bad in the world?

And then there was this: today as I pulled my car into the driveway at work, a man walking by stopped and moved the garbage bins out of my way, giving a nod and a wave before continuing down the street. Later, it began to rain as I walked to the shops and I saw a lady stranded without an umbrella. I offered to share mine, to which she gratefully accepted and said she had done the same thing for someone else the day before. Then while I walked her home another man ran past us at top speed – I assumed he was running for the bus which was just about to pull away – only to race over to help a mother who was struggling to lift a pram up some stairs. He then walked over to the bus stop and stood to wait for the next one with a small smile on his face. These moments were not anywhere near as big as the catastrophes that were occuring at the exact same time in some other parts of the world. Yet they contained tiny little seeds of hope that restore some balance between those heartbreaking news stories and the innate goodness of people. I will certainly be sharing these small kindnesses with Faye next time I see her.

Undercover Kindness, Old School Style

In this fast-paced, techno-obsessed age, there is something extra wonderful (and yes, kind) about taking the time to do things the slow way. I have written before about my hippy tendencies, about my vague but persistent urge to embrace the ‘peace and love’ movement. Whenever I am feeling a bit lost, the things that ground me again are getting back to basics – cooking a slow meal, surrounding myself with nature, reading a good book, connecting with others.

So after a couple of weeks of being overwhelmed by “life stuff” and wandering off the kindness path, I decided the way to get back on track was going old school – slowing down and simplifying. I also did around two kindnesses each day to make up for lost time! I spent a day smiling and saying hello to people (always a challenge even to get eye contact). I made brownies for my new housemates. Went for a bushwalk and picked up rubbish. Bought a Big Issue and talked to two homeless people. Helped a lost boy find his father and lost tourists find the train station. I stuck post-its in public bathroom mirrors with comments such as “Hey, good looking! You’re gorgeous – don’t doubt it!” I also sent hand written cards to two of my most beautiful friends. There is something wonderful about recieving mail that is not bills or advertising, especially when you are not expecting it. Knowing someone thought of you and took the time to put pen to paper makes it feel like there is happiness and love tucked inside the envelope amongst every word.

My most fun kindness was an undercover mission to the library armed with my heart post-its, inspired by Kindnessgirl. Many people claim that books will very soon be obsolete with the invention of all the various electronic reading devices. The thought that one day books will go the way of CDs and videotapes is quite horrifying to me – I think there are few greater pleasures in life than curling up with a pre-loved novel on a rainy day. Or sharing a much-loved book with a child. There is something completely irreplacable about the feel and the smell and the very idea of a book and all the promises it has kept and made. A great book has the power to entertain and amuse and inform and inspire – to change your perspective and your life. I read a short story once that said the only people that would truly be able to live forever without becoming bored would be those that love books – there could never be enough time to read them all. For this mission I spent most of my time in the self-help and travel sections, imagining who might be picking up each book and writing notes of encouragement and positivity. For example, on a book about thinking your way slim: “The journey to your best self has already begun. Keep going!” And on a book about Brazil: “Rio Carnevale = the time of your life. Do it!”

I encourage you to take up the library challenge – it costs nothing, it might give someone a very unexpected boost of happiness and really is a lot of fun! Go forth and post-it. I’m off to read my book…

The World Can Only Change From Within

“Now is the time for the tribes of Sydney to gather, collaborate, be entertained and accelerate this revolution toward a more kind, conscious and sustainable world.” – Jono Fisher, Wake Up Sydney

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them. This lesson really hit home for me. When someone very close to me died a couple of years ago, I felt very much like I should try to remember the happy memories and not wallow in sadness because that was not what they would want. However, denying the negative feelings was not making me happy. In fact, the suppressed sadness was like a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to sleep, hard to do anything much at all. Then a friend of mine gave me the most wonderful gift – he gave me permission to be sad. He told me sometimes really sad things happen, and you just have to let yourself be sad about it. So I did. And at first there was so much sadness I thought maybe I would never pull myself out of that well again, but after a long time of allowing myself to sit with that sadness without pushing it away I felt it gradually ebb away on its own. Trust that you are strong enough and resilient enough to get through any negative emotions and that embracing them will allow you to emerge more appreciative and more positive.

Make time for stillness.
Inner peace does not mean happiness all day every day. In practical terms it means embracing the moment regardless of the challenges it presents with an open heart and a quiet mind. In order to develop a quiet mind, we must make time for stillness in whatever form fills us up. It doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged with eyes closed saying “ommm” (although this works great for many people) – it could be listening to beautiful music, writing in a journal, walking in nature, people-watching at a cafe… Whatever makes your mind calmer and clearer and allows you to gain perspective. Make it a priority by deciding that your own wellbeing will come before all else, because it is the foundation for success in every other aspect of life.

Realise everything you have ever done was the right thing.
Wow. Really? But what about …? And even that time …? Yes. Every decision we make takes us in a new direction and helps us to change, learn and grow. The moments we don’t want to face are the ones that offer the chance to heal like no other moment can. The past has brought you to right here and now, armed with all the lessons you need to go forward. It is not possible to change anything that has already happened, but it is very possible to change your perspective of it. Did someone stomp all over your heart, and you are left angry and resentful that you didn’t see it coming? Why not re-frame the scenario to be incredibly grateful to that person for showing their true colours and setting you free to find someone who will give you 110% like you deserve? The greatest gift you can give to the world is your very best self, and that means accepting yourself and your past completely. That way you can move forward with a peaceful mind and channel all your energy into what you are meant to contribute to the world.

Stay on your own mat.
Sometimes when attending an exercise class its hard not to look around at other people and compare your own flexibility, or speed, or strength to theirs. But really, these comparisons don’t help us to perform better and usually end up making us feel bad about ourselves because there will always be someone who has more flexibility, speed or strength than us. The same is true in life – everyone is on their own path, with their own strengths and weaknesses. So we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and keep our focus on our own mat. Forget about what everyone else is doing, and concentrate on being the best version of yourself.

Be grateful for bees.
As I said in the introduction to the previous post by gorgeous Lesh, one of the most striking moments of the whole conference for me was being told that one bee works their whole lifetime in order to produce just a quarter of a teaspoon of honey. If we want to be truly kind to ourselves, that means rediscovering the rhythms of mother nature and recognising that we are connected to all creatures. We have a responsibility to not only feed our bodies with the cleanest, most nourishing foods but also to consider whether we are taking only what we need and doing so in a truly kind and ethical way. And that leads me to …

This week’s kindness challenge: Make food choices that are kind to animals and planet earth. Check out Lesh’s guest post for lots of simple, practical ideas (and check out her blog for awesome vego recipes if you are so inclined!)

Gen Y: Indifferent Or Just Different?

Impatient. Demanding. Selfish. Lazy. Indifferent. Gen Y has managed to collect a whole bunch of cliches over the years, and apart from being tech-savvy, most of them aren’t very flattering. Often it seems older generations simply assume the worst of us and we live down to their expectations. But I think that while the cliches might be true, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are impatient if that means we aren’t willing to wait around for results, changes and answers. We are demanding if that means always questioning everything instead of accepting things as they are. We are selfish if that means asking for more when we feel we deserve it. We are lazy if that means not believing work is the most important thing in life. And we are indifferent to politics and politicians if that means we find them collectively uninspiring and out of touch.

The recent Gen Y episode of Q&A tackled this very issue of our generation being seen as totally apathetic when it comes to politics and global issues. I do not think of myself as a political person (in fact, I must admit I almost changed the channel when Q & A came on…) I do not have any strong allegiance to a particular politician or political party. I do not understand half of what goes on in Parliament, nor do I care. I have minimal respect, trust or belief in anything politicians have to say.

However, there are a few select issues that I am extremely passionate about, and am willing to stand up and be counted for. Listening to Samah Hadid, the most eloquent and intelligent 23-year-old you could ever come across, talking on Q&A I realised that generation Y-ers are not indifferent about world issues, we just show our interest differently to generations past. Rather than take to the streets about an issue we make small changes in our everyday life, circulate a video to inform others, sign an online petition or make a small donation towards the cause. And this week, focusing my kindness project to world issues, that is exactly what I did.

For global warming I caught the bus to work and had my very own earth hour at home by turning off all the lights. For changes in our policies and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees I signed a petition and spread the word about an incredible documentary called Go Back To Where You Came From, one of the most personally moving and globally significant documentaries I’ve ever seen. For marriage equality I – along with thousands of others – donated money for a same-sex couple to have dinner with the PM and tell her their story. I did this through GetUp!, a fantastic website making such political action far easier and more accessible to our generation. For saving Tasmania’s forests I wrote to my local MP, also through GetUp!

I believe each of these issues are connected by a need for us to let show more kindness and compassion – whether it be to another human being or to our beautiful planet. Generation Y is indeed very different to past generations, but just because we are not passionate about a political party does not mean we don’t care about what is going on in our world. Far from it – I think Samah summed it up perfectly when she said the difference of our generation is that “Our compassion, our commitment to human rights, is not conditional on political election cycles”. And that seems like the opposite of indifference to me.

Chocolate and Rainboots

I adore the above poem by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. The honesty, the optimism, the beautiful metaphors and striking imagery. Mostly I love the idea that although every mother wishes they could simply pass on the lessons of life and save their child all the hurt and the heartache, unfortunately each one of us must learn the hard way that “getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air”.

This kindness week was all about positive affirmations, to remind my friends and family of their beauty, strength, intelligence and value. I wrote kind messages on post-it notes and sent messages of encouragement every day. These included: “All you have to do is believe in yourself and follow your instincts, and you will end up exactly where you are meant to be” and “You are strong, kind and beautiful. Every moment is an opportunity.” As each person recieved their individual affirmation and repsonded so positively, I realised that while its true that thoughts create words create actions, sometimes it happens differently. Sometimes reading or hearing positive, kind things about yourself from someone else can actually shift your own thoughts. One post-it note that I put on the bathroom mirror at work simply said “You are beautiful”. The next day I saw that someone had added their own comment: “Thankyou for reminding me. :)”

Imagine if everyone knew beyond any doubt their own strength, beauty, compassion and innate value? And for those that didn’t know it yet, imagine if they all had cheerleaders around them to remind them every day of their unique contribution to the world until they did realise it for themselves? Life will always throw enough curve-balls to ensure the necessity of chocolate and rainboots, but maybe being our own cheerleaders can allow us to face the hurts and the heartache like the little girl Sarah describes who just keeps on singing, whose eyes keep shining, who never stops asking for more.

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