HEART-MIND 2014: Kindness - Making It A Habit

By Matthew Clarke

The final day of Heart-Mind 2014 began with our opening keynote speaker, Mark Greenberg, leading the auditorium in a mindfulness exercise. It was a simple task, but a powerful one. 

Look at the person beside you. Study their face for a moment. Now, close your eyes and imagine them standing in front of you. Acknowledge that they are a person just like you, with a mind and a heart and history and feelings just like you, and they have suffered and experienced joy and love and they long to be free from suffering and at ease, just like you do. Then we did the same realization with the rest of the room. Every person there is all of these things. And then the whole world. All of them are just like me. They deserve love and peace and happiness and good health.

This simple visualization exercise was very impactful, and I’ve adopted it into my daily practice. I think amongst the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s extremely easy to fall into a self-based mindset. I think I subconsciously assume much of the time that everyone else exists only relative to me. I have to consciously remind myself that the person that just cut me off in traffic is not some mechanical drone sent to ruin my day, but rather they are a person who was once a tiny, helpless baby, just like my own children. They’ve had a life filled with all sorts of ups and down, of love and heartache, and they have a deep, complicated inner world. And yet when I encounter them at that moment, I turn them into nothing more than a jerk that didn’t shoulder check and shouldn’t be allowed to operate a vehicle. So I think practicing that remembrance every day can have an enormous impact on how we approach the world.

Victor Chan, the founder of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education then took the stage to introduce the final speaker of the conference, Daniel Goleman. Goleman is most well known for writing the book, “Emotional Intelligence.” His talk covered a lot of ground and was a perfect close to the conference as it summarized many of the things we’d been hearing all weekend, but also helped to distill some of these ideas back into the conference’s theme of kindness. All of these concepts that had been discussed: Social Emotional Skills, empathy, compassion, egalitarianism, acceptance – kindness is the physical act of all these things. It is those things put into motion. Daniel spoke of 3 types of empathy:

1. Cognitive empathy (understanding what another is feeling).

2. Emotional empathy (feeling what another is feeling)

3. Empathic concern (the concern for what the other is feeling and the compulsion to relieve their suffering).

It’s that final stage where kindness enters the equation. And really it’s that final stage that is the most important. It’s the outward expression of empathy. And the potential for that kindness is limitless. If we can extend that kindness beyond our immediate world, it can bleed into world politics and policy. Daniel spoke about the climate change crisis and how the greatest obstacle in facing such a threat is the way our brains are wired. We aren’t programmed for long-term threats. It’s called the “Anthropocene Dilemma.” We’re hard wired to worry about immediate threats. And so for the benefit of our future and our children’s future, we need to transcend these limits of our thinking. He asked us to be conscious of our decisions. When we make a decision, ask ourselves who benefits? Ourselves? Our Group? Or the whole world?

As I left Heart-Mind 2014, I felt calmer than when I came. I felt more connected. I felt like less of a jerk. And I also felt like I had gained a good understanding of how to help my kids not become jerks. So in that sense, for me at least, the conference was a grand success. But the challenge is always holding onto these feelings, these outlooks, these strategies. “Holding on” is the wrong term. “Making a habit of them” is a better way to put it. Because it’s one thing to be better for a weekend, but far more important and challenging to be better for longer. So I am reminded again about the importance of a practice, of creating and upholding a structure in my life that constantly reminds me of these ideas and gives me a way to put them into practice.

The Science of Kindness is largely a case of science backing up common sense.  We can all agree kindness is a positive and powerful thing. There’s endless anecdotal evidence. Like Chief Robert Joseph said, “Sometimes you might save a life, just by saying hello.” But it is enlightening to see this common sense acknowledged and validated by experiments. And it’s exciting when the science challenges our assumptions on something, like in Felix Warneken’s research. It is easy for me to hear all of this and think, “Well why are things the way they are? Why isn’t the entire system being turned on its head in favour of these approaches?” But as Daniel Goleman said, “Education, like business and politics, is not evidence based. There is a culture and a way of doing things.” And so things don’t change over night. But every study, every new piece of evidence is a brick in the wall. Every time we change our thoughts, every time we look beyond the surface and see someone for who they truly are, every time we act from compassion, from empathy, from understanding, instead of fear or anger, we are contributing to the change. And so when I feel disheartened or discouraged, I can remember there is a powerful way to fight back: kindness.

Matthew Clarke is a Vancouver-based filmmaker, songwriter, musician, writer, father of two awesome children, and a proud out -of- league husband.  His latest short web-series, "Convos with my two year old," has become an internet sensation in it's first season and is available on YouTube .




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