Some people mistake kindness for weakness; this miscalculation can be a deadly fallacy in the animal kingdom. Why have we been conditioned to look upon those who are kind, compassionate and vulnerable as weak? It could not be further from the truth. Remaining calm and/or turning the other cheek in the face of adversity requires amazing inner strength. Interestingly, it seems that only others of similar character and fortitude can recognize and appreciate this strength; those who are not quite as evolved will often make the crucial mistake of confusing kindness and weakness.
I have a nephew who, to use animal kingdom verbiage, is at the top of the food chain, by this I mean he is smart, ridiculously handsome, tall, fit and virile (he has eight sons!). He is also a spiritual giant. If he had given into the general conditioning of the Western world, he would not be who he is today. He could have become successful simply by manipulating the societal machinery and cashing in on the value that our society places on appearance. People then could have judged him and would have been accurate in their assessment, that he had gotten to where he is just because of his looks, etc. but he is not that person. He never had anything handed to him and probably would not have accepted it if he had. And in the absence of consistent guidance as a young man, he managed to find his way and has worked very hard his entire life to provide for himself and for his family. He is generous, kind, compassionate, unafraid to show vulnerability, humble beyond measure, grateful every minute of the day and is someone for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration.
Once when I was visiting him, he recounted a story to me of a friend of his that I know. He told me that one night they were out in a nightclub and there was tension between his friend and another club patron. The other club patron was drunk and has misconstrued something the friend had said or did and repeatedly attempted to agitate the friend into a verbal or perhaps even physical altercation. My nephew said that after a bit, he took his friend away and they went to another bar because “I have never seen him angry and I was not trying to see it.” We laughed and jokingly said that it would have probably been like the Incredible Hulk because the nice ones are always the most dangerous.
What we were saying then and have spoken about again recently is that it is not that the nice ones are necessarily the most dangerous but that they are definitely the strongest and therefore deserving of a respect that is not often given to them by modern-day society. Additionally, my nephew was able to recognize the inner strength of his friend because he himself is mentally and emotionally strong.
It is very difficult to walk away from someone or to turn the other cheek when we are being belittled, antagonized and perhaps even having previous wounds reopened. Some of us are so sensitive that we feel that way even if the antagonizer is not consciously attempting to press our buttons. There is no right or wrong way to handle a difficult situation; there is only the mindful way or the reactionary way. We all have deep-seated defense mechanisms that come to our rescue when we feel threatened. Some of our defenses are silent, some run and some of them gear up for the battle – this is simply physiology. Our bodies are designed to freeze, flee or fight in the face of danger and on any given day, any of those reactions could be the best reaction however they are still reactions.
Being mindful allows us to stay calm, cool, collected and to clearly see all that is around us and to consciously take the best action in the moment (which is often no action at all) instead of having an unconscious reaction (“react” translates literally to “to act again”) based on previous hurts or fears, current perceived threats or future potential outcomes. Being mindful opens our eyes, minds and hearts and provides us with the clarity needed to assess a situation holistically and to accept it. Mindful awareness allows us to demonstrate love and compassion instead of reacting defensively or violently; we gain the strength to act with kindness.
So how do we gain the strength to act with kindness? The answer is to practice being mindful – always. No one knows what the day will hold so there is no way to brace oneself or to prepare for an emergency, confrontation or altercation and I don’t think that we should be preparing for such things. If we practice mindfulness and giving loving kindness to ourselves then we are always “prepared.” We are prepared for that which we cannot prepare for and in the process we get to experience the beauty and joys of life and to live each day to the fullest.