1 You Can Catch It in the Best of
2 We Are Kin
3 What Kindness Is--and Isn't
4 The Enemies of Kindness
5 It All Starts With Empathy
6 Who Am I, Anyway?
7 Where Courage Comes In
8 We Act, Therefore We Are
9 The Connection Between Kindness and
- Chapter 10 Don't
Forget to be Kind to Yourself
- Chapter 11 God's
- Chapter 12
Strategies and Tactics for the Kindness Revolution
- Chapter 13
Changing the World
SAMPLE CHAPTER from
A Short Course in Kindness by Margot Silk Forrest
The Connection Between Kindness and Power
kindness means accepting our personal power. If you see your place
in the universe, really see it, you will not be struck by your
insignificance. Rather, you will be awed by your...power to build
J. Furey, The Joy of Kindness
Gabrielle parks the Volvo on a
side street in Berkeley, unloads the things she will need for
class, and locks the door. She must walk three blocks to reach the
meeting room where her students have gathered tonight. The air is
chilly and the streets are damp from a day of welcome winter rain.
She is thinking about her garden,
mostly dormant now, and whether she should move the upright
rosemary to a sunnier spot, when her legs suddenly go out from
under her and she lands on her back, her belongings flying.
Her heart is momentarily racing.
It's no small thing to take a fall at night on an empty city
street, especially when you are sixty. She feels defenseless lying
there on the wet pavement.
From down the street, she hears
the sound of running feet. Two men are coming toward her in the
dark. Suddenly they are grabbing her by the arms.
"Are you okay?" asks
"We saw you go down,"
says the other. "That was quite a fall."
As she is lifted to her feet,
Gabrielle can just make out the men's faces. Their cheeks are
unshaven and creased, their hair tangled, their clothes a
mismatched jumble of ragged plaids and moth-eaten woolens. Her
saviors are two Berkeley street people.
Kindness has the capacity to turn
the powerless into the empowered. No matter how the two men who
helped Gabrielle had felt about themselves the moment before they
ran to her, we can be sure they stood taller afterward. They had
come through for someone. They had helped someone in need. They
had been kind. My guess is that they felt powerful. Not
"powerful" as in wielding power. But
"powerful" as in influential, capable, effective,
energetic, able, and competent.
When I told my best friend I was
writing a chapter about kindness as the ultimate path to power,
there was a significant silence on her end of the line.
"No, not power as in forced
marches or hostile takeovers," I hastened to add. "Not
power over. Power within."
Power has been so misused over
the centuries, the word now has a negative connotation. Dictators
are powerful. Corporations are powerful. The CIA is powerful. Big
insurance companies are powerful. Nowadays, "power"
pushes people around and they have no choice but to take it.
But power is simply a type of
energy. It can be used for good or ill, just as a powerful car can
be used to run someone down or race to the airport to deliver a
We have all seen the effect of
the power of love in our own lives and in the lives of those
around us. Prayer has power -- as do beauty, truth, and goodness.
The stories in this book are filled with powerful people, like the
gentle-hearted anesthesiologist, the mechanic's go-fer, the
pregnant defender of lost wallets, the ragged men in Berkeley.
Doing the right thing in the face
of the odds makes us feel our power. Whether our acts of kindness
are quiet ones, like Katy offering her help to the young man in
the hospital cafeteria, or fierce and passionate ones, like Marti
fending off thieves, their legacy is a strong sense of personal
power. This is the reward that comes when we live by our own best
lights, as Quaker author Parker Palmer puts it.
Committing acts of kindness shows
us the power that we have -- over ourselves and our choices, and
over whether this world is a cruel or wondrous place to live. All
of the people who benefited from the kind acts I've told you about
got more than the practical help they were given.
Remember Holly's story of being
slipped a sandwich in the deli when she was exhausted from caring
for her mom? She said she felt like she'd been given a shot of
adrenaline: "It carried me--I swear the molecules rearranged
inside me." Later, looking back on that act of kindness, she
said, "It passes in a breath, but you feel it forever."
After Gabrielle told her students the story of the street people
rescuing her, she said, "When I saw their faces, they fell
into my heart."
The increased sense of power that
comes from kindness doesn't necessarily depend on whether our kind
acts have the effect we hope for. In fact, there will be times
when we cannot know exactly what effect our actions have had. We
will feel empowered all the same. I wouldn't have thought this was
true until I talked to people who'd experienced it.
When I asked my friends for
stories of kindness for this book, Ruiko told me about the time
she was a sophomore at Penn State and worked in the library. She
noticed that one of the other students who worked there was
looking ill. He was pale and drawn, his body thinner. She asked
him if he was sick. He said that he and his wife hated living in
the area and he had stopped eating so they could save money to
leave. Ruiko went home and thought this over. In the morning she
brought the young man three sandwiches: egg salad, tuna fish, and
peanut butter and jelly. "The next day," she told me,
"his friend came up and said, 'John doesn't like mayonnaise.
He threw the egg salad and tuna fish in the trash and ate the
peanut butter.' "
Hearing this, I thought, well,
that's not a story I would use in the book. But when I looked at
Ruiko, she was smiling. She felt good about what she had done for
John. Nothing had changed that.
Kindness calls for us to expand
many of our capacities. In order to undo my thoughtlessness in
smiling at the homeless man's dog but not at the man himself, for
example, I had to see through my own "press release" --
and confess to what I saw. I had to recognize that I wasn't always
the generous person I liked to think I was. I had to expand my
capacity for self-examination and my tolerance for my own
mistakes. By doing so, I discovered a wealth of power in me: the
power to change my thoughts, the power to change my behavior, the
power to reach out to someone I'd wronged, the power to treat my
small-minded self with compassion.
I think kindness -- and personal
power -- is all about choice. We choose whether to feel empathy
for others or to allow anger, denial, or depression to block our
capacity for caring. We choose whether to stop and be kind when
the opportunity arises. We choose to do what's right despite what
others may think or what our own small fears may be. We choose to
implement our decision to be kind by taking action.
Never underestimate the power
that comes with simply having a choice, nor the personal power we
feel once we've decided what our choice will be. Viktor Frankl
discovered this truth in Auschwitz. The camp inmates were beaten,
starved, deprived of sleep, worked beyond endurance, humiliated,
hated, and massacred. Yet, as Frankl tells us in Man's Search for
Meaning, not even the desperately cruel conditions of a
concentration camp could take away "the last of the human
freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of
circumstances, to choose one's own way--." His conclusion is
that "Fundamentally--any man can...decide what shall become
of him -- mentally and spiritually."
There is no greater power than
this, and this is the power that choosing kindness gives us.
Copyright © 2003
by Margot Silk Forrest