Kindness Isn’t an Act with Lachlan Cotter

Guest Post by Lachlan Cotter for the Kind Kindred series.

Kindness Isn’t an Act

The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.
Benjamin Disraeli

I’ve thought a long time on what I can possibly offer to this discussion of kindness. How I can add something valuable and original to the conversation. A heart warming story, a profound philosophical insight…

But all I can really find to say is a confession:

I find kindness most perplexing.

Not the act, or the feeling. But the idea:

The way we talk about it. As if it’s a gesture—a consideration. Like good manners or something. Something we do in order to get along better with each other. Something we’re supposed to do to be better people—to prove our goodness.

We’re often told that kindness feels good. That giving is it’s own reward. And yet, haven’t you also done kind things that were supposed to feel good but didn’t? Given money to charity but secretly resented it? Given your time, your energy, your care and felt depleted instead of fulfilled? Carried another’s burden only to find you lost yourself along the way?

Sometimes kindness feels like an empty promise.

When I was little my mum and I did volunteer work for Amnesty International: selling badges and collecting donations at a neighborhood shopping center. Of the dozens of people I must have collected from that day, there’s only two that I can now remember almost 20 years latter: the most grateful and the least grateful.

The former was a young mother. She positively bubbled with enthusiasm and joy, telling her little son what a worthwhile, valuable cause this was and handing over money without my even having to ask her. Her energy was infectious. In fact I was so taken aback by her enthusiasm that I completely forgot to thank her. But it didn’t matter because no thanks was required.

The latter was practically her polar opposite: a grey, old, crotchety woman, who approached hurriedly, reeking of hostility and spite. I didn’t ask her for money either, but she acted as if I had hounded her. Just the sight of me set her off:

“Oh, yes, what is it today!?”

She demanded, angrily.

“Amnesty International” was all my meek little voice could muster.

She threw down some coins, grumbling something about everyone taking money from her pocket and how she had her own problems.

I wanted to tell her that there was really no obligation to give anything, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t about me anyway. She was looking for somebody to blame for her troubles and I just happened to be here.

This bitter old woman was an extreme case. But actually, she’s not so different from many of us. Most people who give money to charity this way don’t do so out of a sense of joyful outflowing. They do it out of a sense of obligation and guilt.

They do their best to look away; to hurry by you. They know what you’re there for. And if they locked eyes with you they’d be forced to either give a wretched dollar and resent it, or confront the fact that they haven’t the generosity of spirit to part with it. They’d be faced with their own inadequacy. They fear to give because they don’t feel whole in themselves. And if they can steel themselves to give, the gift is usually joyless–a duty.

We tend to look at the world in terms of the outward expression of things. We say we should do kind things in order to be kind people. But in fact it’s the other way around.

You’ve heard the expression random acts of kindness.

But kindness isn’t an act.

It’s kindness that is acting.

Kindness is the cup of love overflowing.

But the act without the feeling is a lie. And inauthentic action will sap your energy and wear you down. You are not present in the action.

We have the word compassion which means co-suffering: to share the suffering of another. It is the cornerstone of all religions. It is considered a great virtue. But what word do we have which captures the ability to share joy? Where is that virtue? Isn’t that what we’re here for? Isn’t that what makes life worth living?

If you want to be a better human, don’t concern yourself with what you’ve been told you should be, or with what old philosophers and profits have said are virtues. Look into yourself and ask who you would be. How do you want to show up in the world? What do you want to create?

Live from that place and make no apologies.

I can detect little difference between genuine kindness and a feeling of abundance. If you want to be kind—don’t concern yourself with kindness. Fill your own cup up. Love yourself. Confront your demons. Examine the resistance that keeps you from expressing it most fully and let it go.

Then share your joy with others in whatever way it wants to be expressed.

There’s nothing random about it.

Lachlan Cotter is a location independent Life Coach who eats fear for breakfast and thinks Mediocrity was a Greek philosopher. He writes at The Art of Audacity about bold self expression and his epic motorcycle tour of Asia. You should totally follow him on Twitter.

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