Warriors of Kindness

A speech that I often give to teachers ends with a call to be warriors of kindness.
To be a warrior of kindness is to to do battle with its opposite. And what is the opposite of kindness?

An interactive learning experience came to me by way of a gate agent who helpfully demonstrated. I was exhausted, lost, confused, sleep-deprived. And I handed her the wrong boarding pass.

“What is this?” she snapped. “This isn’t the boarding pass for this trip. Did you even look at it? Get out of line!”

The correct boarding pass was stuck to it, I found out as I stood in the waiting area, reminding myself I was a grown woman who wasn’t supposed to cry. But tears came anyway. She had no idea what I’d been through already and she didn’t care.

Suddenly, the thought broke through to me: “If this is how I feel, how much more does it hurt when you’re a vulnerable teenager?”

How many times have I missed being human to my students? How many opportunities have I missed to just be kind?

What we know from research about the phenomenon called “downshifting” is that we drop into our reptilian brains when we feel threatened or angry. It takes about 20 minutes to shift back up into our frontal lobes. So, it’s pointless to try to force a kid who’s feeling this way to “snap out of it” or to “not get an attitude.” Kindness is really the only way to dissolve it.

This takes tremendous bravery. It’s very hard to be the welcoming one, especially when you don’t feel welcomed back. It’s very hard to be the forgiving and the accepted one when you don’t get that extended to you. But that’s why we aspire to be warriors. In a sense, we’re doing battle with our own egos that want to make everything into some sort of validation for our own fragility.

To be a warrior of kindness means that you take up your sword not against the kid, but against the illusion that this is personal or this is about you. Because it’s not. It’s just not. You didn’t cause it and you can’t control it. But you can be kind, which is a lot more deadly to hostility than meeting a threat with a threat. I’m thinking of all the times I’ve fallen into that trap.

Also, I don’t want to make you or myself feel guilty when we don’t do this. After all, we’re human. To be a warrior means that you are in daily practice with yourself. Some days you will be more powerful than others. And it also means that part of your practice is taking care of yourself. You can’t do battle if you’re not in good shape. And I mean good shape emotionally and spiritually.

So be the most kind to yourself. What do you need to feel kindness? Who is your person that always extends kindness to you? Check in with him or her.

What validation can you give yourself that you’re doing a good job? Because you are. War is uncertain, but as Lao Tzu said, it is also an art. And like art, some days you will be masterful in your kindness and create such beauty in such an ugly place.

Some days the words feel fake, your face feels cracked, and nothing is easy. Those are the days telling you that you forgot to be kind to yourself first. The poet Rumi described this when he reminded us that kindness exists as an intelligence inside us. If we pause, we see that our kindness, our humanity is “a spring overflowing its springbox…a fountainhead from within you, moving out.” Trust that and trust in your own ability to do battle with the forces of indifference, intolerance, and harshness around you.

Bonus music from Patty Smyth: 

Photo: “Warrior Woman” by Andreas Overland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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  1. Shanna, I was relating your WT freshmen convocation speech to a friend today and could not remember all your points you mentioned as advice to freshmen. Is it somewhere you could share with me. Thank you.

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