“Love is easy! Kindness is easy,” said Yvette Nicole Brown.
“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness,” wrote the Dalai Lama.
“Three simple words: freedom, justice and honesty,” said Charles Kennedy.
Kindness and honesty are considered by many brilliant thinkers to be some of the most significant tenets of a fulfilling and munificent existence; I am wholeheartedly in with this line of thinking. But kindness and honesty are also often passed off as uncomplicated to put into practice, to make our natural response – just do it! Just be kind! Just be honest! I don’t believe this is true. I think it takes bravery, awareness and an entire and effortful shedding of self to achieve true kindness and honesty. Here’s why:
As adults, we all share something in common: a fully developed ego. Our ego can be thought of as our judging mind. It tells us “this is good” or “this is bad” or “yup, I like this” or “nope, never doing that again.” And thus, in any given situation, our ego is alert and at the wheel, constantly scanning our environment and making judgments – good, bad and everything in between.
Fear is born out of our ego. Thanks to having an ego, we all share a fear of outcomes. In any given situation, as we scan our environment and make judgments, we’re also scanning for outcomes. If I do A, will B-bad-thing happen? If C-bad-thing happens, will that lead to D-even-worse-thing?
Our concern with outcomes – our ego – is utterly stunting but absolutely engrained in us, and to turn it off requires work of such consciousness and commitment that it’s downright impossible that kindness and honesty could be our default settings. In truth, to be kind and honest means that we’re making the choice that overrides our constant and pervasive fear of outcomes.
Kids have to be taught to fear outcomes. Kids aren’t born with an ego; they develop it as they get older. They have to be taught not to touch a hot stove so that they won’t get burned – “if you do A, B-bad-thing will happen.” They have to be taught that if a ball rolls into a street, they shouldn’t chase it in case there’s a car coming that could hit them – “if C-bad-thing happens, that could lead to D-even-worse-thing.”
Interestingly and not ironically, kids are naturally the most kind and honest of humans. The stage of our lives before developing an ego is arguably the most pure that we’ll ever be. We look at kids with a fascination and sense of awe because they capture something that we no longer have: they capture life without an ego, without the judging mind.
And to shed our judging mind is the only way to tap back into that place of true kindness and honesty and pureness of self. Do you want to be kind – truly kind, uninhibitedly kind? Do you want to be honest – authentically, openly, gently and unapologetically? Then you have to do the work every day to turn off your ego.
This is where bravery comes in. This is why I say that kindness and honesty take unparalleled courage.
Love is powerful, but fear is pandemic. There’s nothing quite as plaguing and debilitating as being afraid. With our ego always on and alert – with fear our primary state – how do we learn to live from a place of love? With everyone around us living primarily dictated by their fearful egos, how do we choose love when we’ll be endlessly judged for it by others?
I think it’s a gentle and slow process of awareness, persistence, self-compassion and self-forgiveness. We have to wake up each day aware that our ego is going to try to take the wheel; we have to have enough persistence and compassion for ourselves to gently steer towards love and openness; and we have to exercise self-forgiveness for all the times that our ego – our fear – starts to creep back in.
And in doing this, we’ll change – slowly, but markedly and significantly. We’ll start to be genuinely kind. We’ll start to be authentically honest. This is because we’ll be operating from a place of love more so than a place of fear. We’ll be operating from our pure self rather than from that judging, outcome-concerned mind.
You’ll start to know that you’re living from a place of love – that you’re shedding your ego – based on how the people around you react to you. Are they threatened by you? Do they try to assert themselves – their status, their power, their worth – in conversation? Do they seem secretly envious, almost awestruck? There are few things more threatening than seeing someone else tap into their true self and push back their fear. For the rest of us who continue to live in the chains of our ego, it’s intimidating and entrancing to see someone break free.
Because these are the people who are truly kind. These are the people who are truly honest. These are the people who we want to be, the people who know something secretive about the world, who have captured truth at its very core and made it their life. How did they do it? How did they do it?
Well, it was “easy”! It was “simple” – “just be kind; just be honest.”
And maybe this kind of thinking perpetuates the belief that kindness and honesty shouldn’t be a challenge, that kindness and honesty should be nothing but easy and simple. Maybe this discourages people from attempting to labor doggedly every day towards kindness and honesty, from treating it like the demanding work that it is.
Here’s what I believe to be true: to be kind and honest is to admit a sort of defeat, to accept a kind of powerlessness. It’s a fight against and rejection of the ego, and at the same time a gentle submission to and acceptance of the existence of fear in ourselves and others. It’s a willingness to be trampled a thousand times over by those who don’t know how to live in anything but a constant state of fear, and the humility to know that you’re no better than them just because of it.
And this is why what impresses me most – what I aspire to most – is true kindness and genuine honesty. It’s not simple; it’s not easy. It’s the hardest and bravest thing you’ll ever do.