A comment from one Mitchell Roth a few weeks back got me thinking about how much kindness I’ve received while traveling these past seven months. It’s easy to fall into a scarcity mentality and feel like it’s tough to make financial ends meet, but the truth is that I’ve been frequently gifted everything from meals to accommodation to transport throughout my journey.
On the accommodation front alone, I worked out that in my seven months of traveling I’ve had a free and comfortable place to stay almost half the time (95 nights). Given that I usually pay at least €10 per night for hostels and the like, all those free beds and couches have saved me in the vicinity of €1000 since I left home.
Before I go any further with this post, I’ll pause to give a huge and sincere THANK YOU to everyone who’s helped me out. Regardless of whether you gave me shelter for a night or just sent a few words of encouragement my way, it all makes a difference and it’s all very much appreciated.
When I think of how much kindness I’ve received these past seven months, I feel like a very rich man.
Getting your kindness in order
I’ve started to think of kindness as a form of currency.
Like any other currency of course, there are two sides to it: Giving and receiving. However, while everyone tends to appreciate that we can get better at earning money and smarter about spending it, not many people view the giving and receiving of kindness as something to be developed, as something we can get better at.
I’d like to challenge that notion.
I learned from my experience in Iran that receiving kindness can take quite a lot of maturity…
I couldn’t get myself out of this mess in Iran. I needed the assistance of other people. I had to leave my ego at the door, put up my hand and ask for help. And then I had to accept that help graciously.
A younger me would have considered this a step back down the maturity ladder. But I now recognize it as a step up. Sure, I often had to surrender my independence and put my fate in the hands of strangers, but I see now that it takes a stronger sense of internal security to do this than it takes to go it alone.
From growing up in Ireland, I can recall many instances of people being too proud to accept kindness. They saw such acceptance as weakness, or they were worried about becoming indebted to the giver. I myself felt that way about kindness for a long time, but then I grew more self-assured and assertive. With a high level of self-assurance you’re able to view a gift as a gift, not as a sign that you’re some kind of charity case. And by growing more assertive you have the ability to stand up for yourself and not be taken advantage of should someone try holding you to ransom over an old favor.
Assertiveness plays a big role on the giving side as well. I’ve come to believe that the kindest among us have to be okay with ruffling a few feathers every now and then. They’re the ones who tell friends what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear, even when it hurts to do so. And they’re the ones who realize that sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is let them make mistakes and figure shit out on their own.
There have been many times in the past where I’ve tried to be kind by helping people, but all I was really doing was making them dependent on me. Such “kindness” might provide a short term solution and a quick boost of the warm-fuzzies, but it doesn’t help much in the long run.
All that to say: Working on your own character is one of the kindest things you can do, both for yourself and others.
A Counter-Intuitive Lesson In Kindness
I’ll leave you with a counter-intuitive lesson in kindness I learned from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography (get it free for Kindle here). Finding himself at odds with a new member of the General Assembly back in 1737, Franklin decided against “gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him.” Instead, he asked the chap for a favor, that being the lending of “a scarce and curious book”…
He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favor.
When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.
This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
So, next time you feel the urge to do someone a kindness just to win their admiration, keep Franklin’s lesson in mind. You may have better luck by putting yourself on the receiving end.
Have you found that you occasionally need to be a bit of a hard-ass to be truly kind? Do you feel more comfortable giving gifts than receiving them? Any chance I can borrow that scarce and curious book from your library?