Many years ago I worked in a small hardware store. Now, there are few things more frustrating in life than plumbing problems. When the water doesn’t flow and the toilet won’t flush it can make a person feel pretty desperate. Because we were a small store, it was not uncommon to find that we did not have the part a customer needed—nor was it uncommon to see a frustrated adult tip over the edge into a full-fledged tantrum that a two-year-old would admire. They would yell and curse and call me names as if I was deliberately withholding the item they desired. It did not take me long to learn that the best way of dealing with such people was to answer with gentle compassion. Proverbs 15:1 teaches us that “A soft answer turneth away wrath….” It certainly calms an angry plumber. Soon, the angry words would fade and an atmosphere of peace and kindness would return. It was in the hardware store that I learned that kindness begins with me.
Today it seems that people don’t hesitate to throw tantrums. They spew the most vile and vulgar words, calling names, spreading anger and hate, destroying property with no thought of the consequences. It is out of control, and too often we respond with hate and anger of our own which only escalates the problem. This is not to say that we should calmly sit still and allow ourselves to be abused, but it is very hard to maintain anger when you are met with kind compassion. Responding to anger with kindness is a bit like throwing water on a fire; add enough and the heat fizzles out.
One last thought about kindness:
“Self-compassion is the foundation for kindness toward others. When we’re accepting of our own idiosyncrasies, we become more accepting of others.” —Christopher K. Germer, The Mindful Path to Self-compassion
We teach others how to treat us by how we treat ourselves. So often we say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else. Such treatment only turns our hearts bitter and makes it easier, in our pain, to spread the unkindness to others. It is by learning to be kind to ourselves that we establish the habit of kindness. So remind yourself often that, in society and in our own lives, “Kindness begins with me.”