language

How to Kickstart Your Kindness

How to Kickstart Your Kindness

“Be kind whenever possible.  And it is always possible,” says the Dalai Lama.

So kindness is important, right?  

Of course it is!  After all, the Dalai Lama says so.

Kindness:  It’s a pillar of strong character.

Kindness:  It’s a big part of a balanced spiritual life.

Kindness:  It’s valued by every religion in the world, and every society.

We have all heard the saying “People may not remember what you say, or even what you do.  But they will remember how you make them feel.”

So the unspoken invitation is to help others feel how we ourselves want to feel.  I don’t know of a single person that truly wants to be treated badly or unkindly.

If we all want kindness, then why is practicing kindness so difficult?  Why do we not act kind more of the time?  Why do more of us not realize the benefits kindness brings to society and to the person being kind?  

After all, kindness is often its own reward.

Kindness Found in Words

One of the reasons kindness is so difficult is this:  In our English language, we do not have a word to express our happiness when other people succeed.

The fact we don’t have the word shows that we lack even the concept of an individual being happy when another person succeeds.  

two hands and a heart

The colloquial definition of “success” is often tied to a profit motive.  Even the dictionary (in this case, Google) ties the two together in the second definition of the word:  “Success: The attainment of popularity or profit.” And the third definition mentions “prosperity,” which is another word often tied to a profit motive.

Profit is fine.  I’m not here to judge anyone with a profit motive (or without one).  But I’ve observed that when you have that motive in mind, and someone fails to meet your expectations, the profit motive often becomes the most important thing.  When that happens, kindness disappears.

Kindness disappears when humans value profit over people.

Kindness disappears when we are taken advantage of.

Kindness disappears when we fail to consider others.

When we think that we are the only person in the world, kindness falls away.  If we really were the only person in the world, there would be no need to be kind (other than to ourselves).  

Of course, we are not the only person in the world.  On an Earth housing over seven and a half billion people, kindness is more important than ever.

Kindness In Languages

There’s a word in the German language — “schadenfreude.”  Literally meaning “damage joy,” it refers to the pleasure that we derive from another’s misfortune.  For example, we might feel a sense of schadenfreude when we learn our ex-boyfriend’s new relationship isn’t working out well.  Or that his house burned down. “He got what he deserved,” we think, not stopping to consider his inherent goodness, or how much trouble this caused him.

As an aside, English does indeed have an equivalent to this word, though it’s rather obscure.  Not nearly as well-known as its German cousin, the English word is “epicaricacy.”  The three parts of the word are Greek:  

  • Epi, meaning “upon”
  • Chara, meaning “joy”
  • Kakon, meaning “evil”  
globe encircled with country flags

There is another word in English that refers to the concept of being happy about the success of others.  That word is borrowed from the French, and it is “compersion.” The root “compère” means partner, or accomplice, and it comes from the Latin compater or compatrem (meaning “godfather”).  A relatively new word, its origins and full etymology are not clear.

I am very interested in language, and especially how it molds and shapes our brains.  So the fact that certain words even exist in a language often gives clues to how the speakers of that language behave.

The Sanskrit language originated in Ancient India over 3,500 years ago.  It is an old Indo-Aryan language, and is related to Greek and Latin. And of course, our own English language owes much to Greek and Latin.

There is a word in Sanskrit that means joy, especially vicarious or sympathetic joy.  It refers to the pleasure which springs from delighting in the well-being and successes of others.  

That word is “mudita.”

Sanskrit word "mudita"

Mudita is a joy that is pure, and not touched by self-interest.  One feeling mudita likely has no direct interest in, nor any direct income from the accomplishments of the other.  Think of the joy a parent might feel when they see their son walking for the first time. Or the feeling you might get when you watch your dog exuberantly playing with her rope toy.

Jealousy is an opposite (an antonym).  So is unfettered envy.

Though I’m not going to dive into Buddhism right now (I find myself to be an “Accidental Buddhist,” and I imagine I’ll write more about that later), I will say that many Buddhist teachers refer to mudita as an inner spring of infinite joy.  This is available to anyone, at any time.  “The more deeply one drinks of this spring,” it is written,  “the more secure one becomes in one’s own abundant happiness, the more bountiful it becomes to relish the joy of other people.”

I don’t know if anyone has done any scientific comparisons of overall happiness level of Sanskrit-speaking countries versus that of English-speaking countries.  But I’d be really interested in reading the results of one.

Where We’re Going, Where We Can Go

In our Western cultures, we are taught to value competition.  Struggling against others is supposed to be a fuel that pushes people towards ever-rising levels of success.  Indeed, many of our most visible industries, such as film, music and sports, all spotlight a culture built on the idea of achievement, no matter the cost.  No matter the hurt we cause, no matter how we might undermine someone else, no matter who we might step on in our quest to “reach the top.”

happy group with arc above

Yet out of the other side of our mouths, we profess to value peace.  We say that harmony is a lofty goal. We maintain that we are working together for a better future.

We can’t have it both ways, though.  The sad truth is that when humans are taught to value success at any cost, and excellence no matter the price, we get results that are not in line with what we’ve professed, as above.

I myself am not involved in any of those industries.  Still, I’m a freelance writer, and there is ostensibly plenty of competition in that field as well.  

What if it was better, though?  Success and abundance are not pie.  There’s not a finite amount of prosperity to go around.  We can all be successful, if we only listen to the truth in our hearts.  We can all be abundant.  We can all be prosperous. We can all be joyful, if only we choose it.

So the next time something nice happens to a coworker, try telling them “Hey, I’m really happy you got that promotion!”  The next time an acquaintance tells you they just won the lottery, try being pleased for their good fortune, and ask what they’re going to do with the money.  

In doing so, you just might change the world.  And that’s a world that I want to live in.

exuberant group
Posted by John Onorato in Blog, Relationships, 0 comments