As we commemorated the anniversary of September 11th yesterday I found myself thinking sad and gloomy thoughts. I am sad for those who lost their lives and sorrowful for their friends, families and loved ones. I am downright depressed that a single tragedy, major as it might have been, has become an excuse for chipping away at civil rights. And while I must confess that, since my SAIS days, I have long felt that a serious incident of domestic terrorism would herald the downfall of Western civilization as we know it, I didn’t think it would happen so soon, or that we’d be more “don’t let the bad man hurt me again” than “you can’t shake our indomitable pioneer spirit” either.
Our fears prompt us to spend billions on what still amounts to mostly security theater. We’re not screening port cargo or much air cargo, but you and I are getting a lot of scrutiny when we travel by air. We seem to think, or perhaps hope, that armed guards and TSA agents can keep us safe from evil. Evil has sadly proven quite resilient and creative throughout history, especially when mixed in with seemingly noble intentions. The Spanish Inquisition comes to mind here, as do inadvertently permanent “refugee camps” in the modern world.
In learning Qi Gong, Tai Chi and the Tao Te Ching, we are confronted with a fundamental paradox: how do you feel safe in an unsafe world? How do we reconcile the fact that bad things happen to good people, often unexpectedly? The Taoists would have us cultivate “cheerful indifference”, a sort of “it is what it is” approach to life. That translates, at least in my mind, to the notion of releasing expectations even as you strive to fulfill your goals. Our efforts may – or may not – lead to the outcomes we hope for.
We can accept and adapt to the outcomes we get, or we can get upset and resentful. We can choose to believe that the universe is treating us and only us unfairly, or we can choose to believe that we each deserve a bit of kindness and consideration from our fellow human beings. When we lead with kindness we make the world feel like a better place, even though some days it doesn’t seem like a very good place at all.
Here’s an example. You may be telling me that my flight isn’t going to leave for hours, but the odds are quite high that you are telling me this because it’s your job to do so and not because you are infused with a sadistic desire to ruin my travel schedule. I can be polite and ask you to check for alternate routes or I can throw a temper tantrum that raises everyone’s blood pressure. Which strategy sounds more win-win to you?
In the spirit of making small changes that have a big impact, try a little extra dose of random kindness this week. We can’t change the past, but I have hope that we can create a brighter future.
By Lauren A. Burnhill aka @LaurenOPV