kindness: (n) the quality of being warmhearted and considerate and humane and sympathetic
My acupuncturist (who is also a dear friend) is a good person. I mean that in the truest sense: she is good in all ways, always striving to be considerate of and generous toward other people. But too, she knows how to draw boundaries, how to say no when it’s appropriate. She knows when to be honest and when to be silent.
She taught me a long time ago to monitor my own behavior with one simple exercise:
You must ask yourself three questions before speaking:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
If the answer to each of the three questions is “yes,” then you may proceed. If the answer to any of the questions is “no,” then you pause.
She never told me not to say the things that I feel a need to say. I think what she wanted me to learn for myself how to handle difficult situations. I did well with this exercise for some time. But somewhere in the past couple of years, I lost track of it. Fortunately, Andrea reminded me of this exercise, and I am committing myself anew to practicing it in my daily life. It is astounding how many times I come up with a “no” when I ask myself these questions, how many times I find something to be true and necessary, but unkind; or true and with a kind phrasing, but not necessary. That seems to be the biggest obstacle: how often is what we say to each other really necessary? And how often do we avoid saying things that are necessary simply because we find them uncomfortable?
I have long believed that compassion is the most important human quality, and I am coming to understand that compassion without kindness is useless. Likewise, kindness without compassion is just as empty. I think I have been approaching this incorrectly for a long time.