A stranger saved my life last week. I was walking through a park with my husband, when a woman wouldn’t let us go any further down the path. She told us that a few kids had knocked down a bee hive further down the trail, and the bees were angry, aggressive, and stinging people. Her husband was on the other side of the path, calling city maintenance and preventing people from entering the park on the other side.
To most people this wouldn’t be a huge deal, however I’m severely allergic to bees. In that moment I was so grateful for this couple who cared enough to take time out of their evening to keep people from getting hurt. Acts of kindness like this are sometimes rare in big cities, where people are often busy and self-absorbed. My evening could have been drastically different if that couple hadn’t been there.
The experience made me wonder, why aren’t we kind more often?
There are many times throughout my day when I could be more kind. But I’m often in a rush, self-absorbed, and focusing on my own needs. “I need to get home by 8pm,” “I need my lunch right now,” “I need this lineup to move faster.” If I’d come across a nest of angry bees (and wasn’t allergic to them), I doubt I would have taken time out of my schedule to call the city and keep people from walking down the path.
This bothers me. I want to be a person who generously gives their time to help others.
Some meditation masters consider a particular form of meditation, metta or lovingkindness meditation, to be the highest form of spiritual practice. In metta meditation, you focus on giving love to yourself, to your loved ones, to your enemies, and eventually to all beings everywhere. The practice typically involves repeating variations of the following words to yourself:
May I be safe.
May I be peaceful.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
You can also practice by saying these words while thinking of someone else – an enemy or friend – and all beings everywhere. The Dalai Lama is a huge advocate of this form of meditation, and research suggests that it may have several beneficial effects.
If I had to wager a bet, however, I’d guess that this form of meditation is not particularly popular among North Americans. Our society teaches us to be so individualistic that we don’t often think it’s necessary to focus on the well-being of others. But what if we were raised differently?
What if compassion was seen as an essential skill that was taught to us not only by our parents, but also by our education system?
Some organizations, such as the Mind & Life Institute’s initiative on secular ethics, are trying to start a dialogue about the importance of teaching compassion to our children. Similarly, from an evolutionary perspective, some scientists have argued that because humans are social beings, we developed traits such as altruism to help ourselves survive.
Personally, I would like to bring more lovingkindness into my life. Even something as simple as making eye contact with people on the street and saying “good morning” would be a nice start. You never know what effects your kindness might have. Perhaps your greeting reflects just enough love to bring someone off the brink of suicide. The couple who helped me in the park probably didn’t think they were going to save someone’s life that night. But they very well might have.
Remember that every act of kindness, no matter how small, can have monumental effects. @BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)
Whose life might you save today?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.