Building Resiliency: Generosity and Kindness

January 27, 2020

ReferencesHanson's "Resilient"Dr Oz and Dr RoizenThe Widow's Mite,

Building "resilience" is much more powerful than treating injury, in physical as well as emotional or spiritual terms. If you want to build a core of unshakable calm, strength, and happiness, you want to learn how to be resilient. Generosity is one of Rick Hanson's 12 psychological "muscles" or strengths to develop. But you can argue it is also one of Jesus's core "spiritual virtues". In fact, the overlap of the core tenants of Judaism's social justice, Hinduism's alms, Islam's generosity all circles back to these same issues. Our religious traditions all recognize its value for society, and for you, the individual. It's now mid-winter and we are all feeling a bit cooped up and impatient for spring. Settle in and think for a minute how to build your resilience with generosity. 

Start thinking about all the little things you "help" someone with. How do you give generously of your time and resources? Is there someone you would like to give a small "gift" to that you have held back on? Can you sit down and write a handwritten thankyou note. Can you give a bigger tip to the waitress who served you at the restaurant on a Saturday evening when she could have been home with her kids? Those little reminders every day help you be aware of how much you yourself find it important to be kind, and how good you feel when you do it. 

Now, ramp it up. A higher order of kindness is forgiveness. You have been hurt by someone. Have you forgiven them? Rick Hansen gently details beautifully how to start the process with conditional forgiveness perhaps before you get to the whole unconditional forgiveness. And why? Once again, who benefits? You. When you practice forgiveness to others, you also forgive yourself. In that space you let go of guilt and move onto a wider world of self-acceptance. 

Ready for the next step? We are hard-wired to define ourselves by our tribe, our "people", our club. It's not far from that hard wiring to be suspicious of those who are different. Once again, when you accept those outside your familiar circle, when you forgive those historical "wrongs", the world widens and the opportunities for love and connection multiply. The world benefits, and you benefit. 
But all those big global steps start with the little small actions of everyday kindness, everyday generosity.

In this historical moment of tribal animosity in America, can you find a Democrat, or a Republican (someone opposite your "tribe") and just do something kind to them. Make America be what it has always been, a place for all of us.

WWW: What will work for me. My mother used to say something to the effect of, "You get more with sugar than with vinegar" as a truism along these lines. Yes, I get it. Even management experts tell you you get more out of your employees when you pursue kindness. But most of all, every day, I feel better about myself when I express gratitude to the grocery clerk for working late evenings when I can shop, or thank the Amazon delivery guy for running up your driveway to bring you your toothpaste. (Admit it: you get two deliveries a day from the Amazon guy too - so be grateful and thank her/him). We left bigger tips this year for all those people who make life possible for us and get little recognition: the garbage guy, the mailwoman - and now they stop and talk to us. My world got richer.

Pop Quiz

  1. Building resiliency is a multifaceted journey that psychologists have just figured out. T or F. Answer: profoundly false - every religion in history is based on these principles when you peel away the layers. We humans need this stuff. (For those of you in the Christian/Jewish tradition: read Micah:6:8 "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly....."
  2. Ok, so what has modern research uncovered? Answer: We live longer, happier lives when we practice the art of generosity, as one component of building resiliency.
  3. What's the best way to do it? Answer: do it in little steps every day, and notice it. It's the noticing and savoring it that builds the "brain muscles". Neurons that fire together, wire together. You build up those circuits in your brain with repeated thinking and practicing it.
  4. Do I have to do grand gestures for it to succeed? Answer: Heck no. Again to quote the Ancients: Jesus calls out the widow who gives 2 copper coins. It is her benefit that is the highest reward. My childhood congregation in India had a "Muthi Dhan" offering where every family brought a fistful of rice to give and share with those who had less. The poorest of the poor benefit, just like the richest of the rich. Generosity is a gift for all of us.