The power of civility and compassion

9 years ago

I've never been fond of the word "nice". It always seemed such a pasty little word. But lately I am starting to notice with sadness the erosion of "nice" in our everyday world. You know what I mean -- things like civility, courtesy, respect, people saying thank you, doors held open, a wave of the hand when letting someone get in the traffic lane, thank you notes, signs of appreciation, helping hands. We are all so distracted by our cell phones, our careers, our over-burdened schedules, that we have started to value the slickness of efficiency (uninterrupted action) as an ideal. I want to get in the lane - I'm in the lane - move on to the next demand.

And we are paying a price for this as a nation and as individual beings. Our spirits make us more than just the sum of our actions. They connect us each to the other as part of a larger human community. What we do or neglect doing has an impact on those around us. And what we succeed doing (or fail to do) as individuals, we will replicate up through the layers of individual, family, neighborhood, community, etc -- until we forget to be respectful as a nation. To not express mindful compassion and caring every day is to harden our own hearts, to disengage us a little bit ea ch day from everyone else in the world.

And that is exactly what this world, and our own human hearts, do not need. We need to engage each other daily, even if in small ways. We've all heard of "Random Acts of Kindness", but when is the last time we really committed to a life full of just such acts?

Cajunvegan says

Think Good Thoughts. Do Good Deeds. Be the Change.
It is no secret that I have a stressful, thankless job. Mondays are usually the worst. Today was just absolutely, positively better than the norm. I think it was in part because things are starting to calm down and even out among the little degenerates, in part because I decided it was going to be a better week, and in part because I performed three random acts of kindness for three people that will never ever be able to repay me. While I do not want to divulge the details, I will share that it made each of their lives a little better for the short term with little cost or stress to me.


Here is a fun and instructive challenge: This week, give something anonymously to someone whom you know needs it. But give it in such a way that it cannot be tracked back to you. And never tell anyone, not even us, that you did it. Just give it in the purest way.

Tess, in her blog, speaks of a phrase she likes :20"guerilla compassion" -- saying a blessing for random people "May you be happy. May you be at peace." But this wasn't working for her. Then she tried this:

So I’ve begun trying something different. Blessing people I feel no affinity with. People, in fact, toward whom I feel instinctive dislike. Deliberately choosing the wide-boy City banker, the braying arrogant lawyer, the over made-up girly girl. May you be happy, may you be at peace.

And this is really stretching me. But it’s impossible to set deliberate compassion in motion for someone while feeling contempt for them. I’ve begun to remember not only faces but details: the bitter lines around someone’s mouth, the patch on the jaw missed while shaving in a hurry, the faint sour morning smell of last night’s alcohol.
I could barely tell those City types apart before - all those white boys in their co-ordinated shirts and ties. Now I’ll bless someone in the morning and wonder later how “my” banker is doing.


That is heady stuff -- the man she didn't like now becomes "her" banker -- the one she hopes has done well. On an individual level it is person-changing stuff -- on a larger level, well, it could change the world. A simple positive thing could change the world. Read the last sentence again if you have to.

The Last Girl on Earth talks about reinstating simple civility and the effect it can have:

When I was a kid, my mother would take my sister and me around the city on public buses. She ALWAYS thanked the bus driver when we would exit the bus. To this day, I do the same thing myself. When I get off of a bus, I’ll look at the bus driver and say THANK YOU. He or she will then follow it up with YOU’RE WELCOME! It’s a really easy thing to acknowledge that there is a person up front driving the bus, not some robot without feelings. I’d like to think that a happy bus driver is a safe bus driver!

Jennifer reminds us all:

How many times have our random acts of kindness or random acts of intolerance and cruelty changed someone’s day? We pay little attention to how we affect the people around us. We neglect to realize that sometimes God may put someone directly in our path for the sake of that small random act of kindness that changes someone’s day! Does it really hurt us to be kind to neighbors? What ever happened to the golden rule of treating others as we would like to be treated? Let someone merge in front of you in traffic – it will only take a few seconds, and if those few seconds are going20to make you late to your destination, I have news for you, you are already late! Compliment that woman in the grocery store who is donning that fabulous scarf you are admiring – what person doesn’t light up at an unsolicited compliment? That homeless person on the corner you pass by everyday – give them a fast food gift card with five dollars on it – guaranteed a hot meal from a stranger will brighten their day!

I think it makes sense to let this become a discipline at first -- to pay attention to the opportunities we have to be civil, thankful, polite, compassionate. View a day as a compassion opportunity. It is not a little thing. By injecting conscious acts of kindness or charity into every day, the world really can change. If you are already a civil and "nice" person, let each day yield three more opportunities for you to express your connectedness with other people.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world -- Gandhi

Mata H, CE for Religion and Spirituality, also blogs into the night at Time's Fool.

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