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There are no great acts.

There are only small acts, 

done with great love.

-Mother Teresa 

It seems that most people want to be kind. Our human inclination, in most cases and if not threatened, is to attempt connection with others and kindness is that vehicle.

In their insightful and useful book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey lay out seven languages for transformation: underlying all of these (though not explicitly stated) is kindness.

In its true form — not “being nice” but demonstrating compassion and connection — kindness is the currency we need more of in this world. Imagine the transformation in relationships, workplaces, communities, between countries and cultures if we were able to be kind more often.

Longfellow wrote: “If we knew the secret history of our enemies, there would be enough sorrow there to disarm all hostilities.”

Whether we see the “other” as an enemy or just someone with a contrary view or who wants to get in front of us on the freeway, kindness requires a vulnerability, a generosity of understanding, and a pause before acting or responding.

So often the speed at which things are moving (on the freeway or otherwise) doesn’t allow us to slow down and respond with kindness.

Image result for kindness

Even in the field of social change and sustainability, where many of us work to improve lives, protect landscapes, and fight for change, there is latitude to increase the kindness we direct at ourselves and share with others.

The urgency of the issues we face is a challenge to navigate, and sometimes that challenge leaves us worn out or overwhelmed, where we can forget to celebrate our victories and lift up those sharing the work.

I received an e-mail from a colleague this week that celebrated the accomplishments of a team member and it was so uplifting to read-not a request or a quick reply, but a genuine and thoughtful celebration of someone’s talent shared with a group benefiting from her hard work.

That level of acknowledgement–in our work, in our families, on the streets or on a train with strangers–can be transformative. Another example of how we might think about doing this is captured in this month’s featured resource, an interview with Nina Horne .

The foundation of any change, even in the most intractable or longstanding conflicts, is our ability to see another or the other side. Choosing to be kind whenever possible-even in difficult or stressful circumstances-is one small act moving in that direction.

This is one of my favorite poems, and expresses the importance of kindness in the world and suggests where its true source lies. I carry it with me and regularly share this with others-it’s a great reminder of how rare and vital this practice is.


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

it is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you every where

like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye

February 2015