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Lions Roar : May 2014
I think the American psyche right now is a bit like someone who has left their house and left something valuable behind. And even when we do talk about kindness, we do it with a bit of an apologetic wince. Certainly politicians do. But a human being without some kind of striving for kindness is really hobbled. It is hard to know how to live if kindness and sympathy and generosity are considered second-rate virtues. We’re kind of not human beings in that case. It’s really invigorating to just say it, you know. I’m a guy from the South Side of Chicago. I’ve been in a lot of fights in my life and I’ve done a lot of rough jobs, and I’m not afraid of being considered untough. It’s kind of nice to say that these are indispensible virtues and we can’t go ahead without them. There’s no point. Maybe it’s some kind of blowback from the Reagan era, but when someone talks about kindness, we think of a bearded guy in a turtleneck sweater playing an acoustic guitar and kind of whining. But Martin Luther king, Jr. and Nelson Mandela and all these great people weren’t afraid to be quote-unquote weak. Lincoln was willing to be mocked, to take the lower place, to be patient with his enemies. But really he was the strongest person in the room. He could endure a lot of abuse if he knew that in the long run, his acceptance of that abuse would bring about a positive result. His gentleness and compassion and patience were all symp- toms of his great strength. Many people feel that we live in a dangerous world, and we can’t afford to let our guard down. Sometimes people say to me, in general I agree with you about kindness, but what about Hitler, what about terrorists? I think we’ve been misled—and I see this all the time on the news—by this idea that we always have to be girding our loins for the next big showdown with somebody or other. We act as if the wolf is always at the door, so we’ve got a gun pointing out the window. But actually the wolf is not that often at the door, so we can afford to go a little easy. Ninety-nine percent of the time if you just do your best to be kind, you’re better off. It’s the basic things, like trying to have good manners, keeping your assumptions about the other person a little open, being willing to revise your opinion. And even these are pretty tricky. The times when you’re asked to do something about Hitler are pretty few and far between. I’m fifty-five years old and I’ve lived in a lot of circum- stances, high and low, and I’ve never gotten into a really extreme situation. When I’ve come close and had the pres- ence of mind to err on the side of negotiation and humaniz- ing the situation, it’s always gone better than when I’ve tried to steer toward confrontation. I keep in mind that quote from The Philadelphia Story: “The time to make up your mind about other people is May All Beings Be at Ease! Metta—Kindness or Goodwill—is one of Buddhism’s most valued virtues. With compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity, it is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmaviharas) of the enlightened ones. In the Metta Sutta, the Buddha teaches his monks how to live a moral and upright life, with metta at its center. In these stanzas, he tells us how to live with complete kindness. Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born, May all beings be at ease! Let none deceive another, Or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will Wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life Her child, her only child, So with a boundless heart Should one cherish all living beings: Radiating kindness over the entire world Spreading upwards to the skies, And downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down, Free from drowsiness, One should sustain this mindfulness. This is said to be the sublime abiding. ♦ Translation: Amaravati Sangha PHOTOBykERRyRyANMCFATE,COURTESyPACEgALLERy SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 39