In my last post for the Jewish Mother Project, I wrote about compassion and kindness, and how I want that to be at the core of my identity and practice as a Jewish mother.
The thing is, as much as I like to spout off about big ideas, we Jews are all about action. It’s really not enough to think about being kind; I want to find ways to make it a part of my daily life. And I’m not talking about the “random acts of kindness” of bumper sticker fame, although that’s always nice too. I’m talking about making intentional choices to make kindness and compassion front and center on a regular basis.
Not surprisingly, Jewish cultural and religious traditions have plenty to say about just how to be kind to others, especially in times of death and mourning, in caring for the poor, and in our business dealings. Those are important, to be sure, but right now I’m thinking about the smaller, daily interactions I have with friends and family members who might be going through a hard time. Perhaps it’s an injury or illness, a divorce, a struggling child, or just a generally crappy year; whatever is going on, lately it’s been feeling increasingly important to find ways to reach out and support my friends.
Maybe it’s because this past year was such a hard one for me, and I’m so grateful for all of the kindnesses I received—from friends who came over for play dates, who went for a walk with me, who helped me unpack on moving day, and who helped me assemble shelves for my new office. These are such small things, but in the course of a day, a month, or a year that seemed to be assaulting with me relatively small things that added up to a pretty rough time, those kindnesses made a big difference.
Here are some of the kindness practices I’m trying to do on a more regular basis:
1. The most basic, yet most important, thing I can do is show up. Jewish tradition not only encourages us to show up for our friends in their times of joy and sadness, it requires at least 10 of us to get off our tushies and be there for the bat mitzvah or shiva minyan. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there are a million different ways to “show up” for our friends (I’m partial to a well-timed poop text myself; see #5 for more about that), but when the situation calls for a bit more than a juvenile joke, I find that a phone call works well.
2. Despite the fact that I’m not much of a cook, I still feel compelled to feed my loved ones in their times of need. (Apparently the Jewish Mother Force still runs strong in me.) I find that bagels and smoked salmon from our local bakery will generally do the trick.
3. I also love to take people for a good walk. We Jews are a walking people; just ask the Israelites who schlepped their tushies across the desert for 40 years. (You may feel compelled to point out that everyone was walking in those days, but that’s so not the point here.) There’s just something about fresh air and moving your body that can make everything feel slightly less crappy, at least for a few minutes.
4. Whenever possible, I try to give my friends the benefit of the doubt. Whatever has happened, whatever is going on, I try to assume that it wasn’t their fault; accidents happen, they were having a bad day, and they were doing the best they could. And yes, the great Rabbi Hillel did have something to say about this, as he tells us in Pirkei Avot, “Judge not your fellow until you have been in that person’s place.” This is my one practice that happens almost entirely in my mind, but what I’m thinking has a way of leaking out into my words and actions, so it seems like an important place to start
5. Last, but most certainly not least, there’s nothing quite as healing as laughter, so a well-timed joke is always helpful. In case you aren’t familiar with our long tradition of hilarity in the face of suffering, you can get the background here. Also, my poop texts? As Lenny Bruce would say, JEWISH.
Now, here’s the kicker. The plot twist. In Leviticus we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves. It doesn’t say to love our neighbors better than ourselves, or instead of ourselves, and I’m assuming that they aren’t suggesting that we treat our loved ones with the same blame, shame, and contempt that we often direct towards ourselves in our roughest moments. So, lately I’ve been trying to show up for myself (often by taking just a few minutes to breathe and notice what’s going on in my body and mind), feed myself in relatively healthy ways, take myself for a walk, give myself the benefit of the doubt, and try not to take myself so damn seriously all the time.
And you know what? It’s working. To misquote one of my favorite Jewish proverbs, my burden hasn’t gotten any lighter, but on the days when I extend a little kindness to myself and others, my shoulders feel just a little bit broader.
How do you practice kindness, towards yourself and your loved ones, on a regular basis? I’d love to hear your thoughts!