Can you feel it in the air? The fall is upon us as the light changes and the temperature shifts. Every year I welcome the change of season and the academic calendar as I’m a lifelong student at heart. It’s also a time of unrest and discord and I know many are feeling a bit jittery (and that may be an understatement). The uncertainty with the pandemic has passed the point of exhaustion. If you have brain fog, just know you are not alone. We can only cognitively process so much and be on alert so long before our bodies are shouting “Overload!”
I’ve been thinking about the time I spent writing The Kindness Cure back in 2016-2017, when I felt so frustrated with the world and concerned about the future my daughters might have as they approach adulthood. “What happened to kindness?” I asked. I could write that whole book over again only to change the introduction and switch the circumstances of the cultural moment: School mass shootings to violence against people of color; devastating hurricanes to the COVID19 pandemic. And all along the fires are still raging. Political unrest persists. What to do?!
So I find myself being even more committed to practicing calming skills and finding ways to ease the stress cortisol flooding my system. Every day I do Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine at least twice, try to take a walk outside, and find some time for a virtual yoga class outside of work hours. It is a commitment. I can’t always keep it. But when I do, I find myself better able to be present for others.
On a recent walk with a dear friend, she described the emotional pain of having to tell someone that they could no longer be friends. They have opposing political views. But that was not the crux of the issue. It was that this friend was shockingly rude and disrespectful, resorting to blaming and name calling, mostly on social media or text. Tried as she might to engage in compassionate listening and find any common ground, it was for naught. I could feel the grief in her quavering voice. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is to set a personal boundary. Being clear is being kind, as Brené Brown would say. Yet, context matters. Most of us have lived long enough to know how painful it can be to walk away from a relationship. It doesn’t mean giving up a good fight for one’s beliefs, but it’s an invitation to redirect your attention and energy in more productive ways.
We can’t help getting tribal. We are wired for it. It’s how humans have survived hardships. Bonding together was protection from the elements, predators, and invaders. Yet now, with so many shared spaces, especially online, we find ourselves fighting over everything. (It’s harder to be mean when face-to-face.) Scientists who study social behaviors, suggest that one way of bridging divides is to engage in moral reframing. This is what my friend tried to some extent. That means trying to understand the other person’s values first. Greater Good Science Center offer a nice Bridging Differences Playbook, drawn from evidence-based strategies. A favorite of mine is Non-Violent Communication (NVC), a method from the late Marshall Rosenberg, which I describe in a chapter called Radical Acceptance (see excerpt). There is also a lovely book, Say What You Mean, A Mindful Approach to Non-Violent Communication, by Oren Jay Sofer. Gosh, with the election coming up followed by Thanksgiving, who won’t be confronted with having hard conversations. We could all learn these skills. For example, starting with an affirmation, building trust, and using phrases like, “The way I see it is [this].” And connecting through your own story or experience. This A-B-C method stands for Affirm, Bridge, Connect. It’s a handy acronym.
In a year of disruption, may you find some measure of ease and kindness. Start with being kind to yourself and then practice the A-B-Cs and NVC. There’s plenty of opportunities!