Kindness is more than an act of care and support. It’s more than a pleasantry or nice offering. Kindness is a way of living. A way of responding to and engaging with the world around us. If our sole practice was one of cultivating kindness it would contain all other important and beneficial teachings within it. The diligent practice of kindness has more than enough conditions to transform suffering and establish us happily and joyfully in the present moment.
I was reminded about the importance of kindness last week when helping a student of mine. I work part-time as a teacher’s aid in a local middle school. Primarily I work with students who need one-on-one help with reading and writing skills, and comprehension. Oftentimes the students I work with are very hard on themselves. They consider themselves stupid because they are not at the same academic level as their peers. Their feelings of inadequacy and self-judement in comparison to their classmates often shows up as frustration, behavior issues, social discomfort, and oftentimes an aversion to receiving the help they need. Their feelings of frustration make perfect sense to me so it’s relatively easy to not take it personally when a student shuts down or acts out when I’m simply trying to help them. Still, it can be stressful at times to be confronted with the difficult situation of a student who desperately needs help but refuses it and is angrily pleading with you to leave them alone.
I was working one-on-one with Josh (not his real name) last week in study hall. We were working in the hallway in at attempt to minimize classroom distractions. He had some math work to do and I was trying to help him learn it and complete the assignment. While I knew that Josh could do math quite well, when he focused and wanted to, I also knew that those moments were getting increasingly rare. Josh hated math and often complained, the way many kids do, especially when it comes to math, “When am I ever going to need to know this stuff in real life. This is so stupid.” To say that he’s been reluctant to do really any amount of math work, either in class or in study hall, would be an understatement. He does everything possible to avoid doing math and gets increasingly angry about it as time goes on. What I’ve learned in short order in working at this rather new job of mine is that you really cannot help those who don’t want to be helped. It’s terribly frustrating, especially when it involves kids, but it’s true. If a student is really set in their ways and does not want to do the work you can’t make them do it no matter how good your intentions are. But hope is certainly not lost. What I’ve also learned in working this job is that kindness always makes a difference. When I am unable to help the students academically because of their unwillingness to learn and get support I can offer kindness, patience, and understanding. And being able to offer these things, especially in moments of stress and frustration, makes a huge difference. It’s a great gift to be able to offer one’s calm presence and a smile.
I am reminded over and over about the importance of kindness in my work with middle schoolers. Even when I can’t be of academic support and assistance I can always practice to extend kindness. Kids are very perceptive. When I’m starting to get frustrated by a student’s stall tactics or harsh words and energy they know it. Even when I’m not outwardly being aggressive or showing upset they can sense when a teacher’s frustration level is rising. And that frustration further affects the situation. When I practice kindness it not only helps care for the kids I work with but it also helps care for myself. When I’m in kindness mode I feel better and am able to live with joy and ease.
An ongoing lesson that I like to keep in mind: Kindness always makes a difference. And thank goodness for that!