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Finding Our Purpose In Kindness

We must find purpose in kindness through daily focus and behaviors.

Key points

  • It is quicker, easier and more seductive for us to embrace hate than it is to embrace love.
  • Left unchecked, we may find the process and benefits of loving and being loved is disrupted.
  • We must make loving – being kind, compassionate, caring, and giving – a priority in daily practice

In retrospect, Yoda certainly got a few things right. Perhaps the moment where his wisdom shined most brightly was in response to a young Luke Skywalker’s question regarding the “dark side” of the force. Luke asked, “Is the dark side stronger?” Yoda’s immediate response was “No – quicker, easier, more seductive.”

 Dario Valenzuela on Unsplash, used with permission
Source: Dario Valenzuela on Unsplash, used with permission

Yoda’s wisdom, unfortunately, reflects many of our lives. Let’s face it – at times, it is more natural for many to embrace the “dark side” of our emotions. Specifically, it is quicker, easier, and more seductive for us to embrace hate than it is to embrace love. Hate can take many forms – anger, judgment, frustration, jealousy, envy, and suspicion.

Hate is fundamentally unkind. We often dehumanize and marginalize the target of our hatred. They are considered less as people and more like objects that cause us pain and, therefore, deserve our cruelest emotions. As time goes on and our hate grows, it fills thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It seems as though being brutal and unkind becomes our purpose – not dissimilar from Darth Vader.

In contrast, love can feel like a somewhat elusive emotion. The various forms of love – from empathy, compassion, and caring to connection and respect – revolve around a basic sense of kindness. Love fundamentally reaffirms a sense of a person’s worth and humanity. And yet, it feels as though it takes more time and effort to build and sustain love. There needs to be consistency in our experience of love to grow to count on it and trust it. Once we’ve built up our trust, we feel more comfortable in expressing and receiving love. And only then do we allow ourselves to find purpose in love – to build our lives around loving and being loved. Otherwise, we often find ourselves drifting from loving feelings as we embrace the “dark side” of hate and unkindness.

And this process of embracing hate over love is an equal opportunity employer. We are just as likely to hate rather than love ourselves as we do others. We tend to easily believe our more self-critical and shaming narratives about ourselves without challenge. In contrast, we can be more doubtful or even suspicious of kind words or deeds from others and don’t tend to adopt them into our own self-talk. Thus, when we talk about ourselves, it seems as though we are singularly committed to and focused on tearing ourselves down rather than building ourselves up.

Why We Commit to Tearing Ourselves Down vs. Building Ourselves Up

There are several possible reasons. For some of us, we are simply reacting to our environment. We have heard more hateful than loving messages in our life. Perhaps we were in a family that focused more on criticism than praise. In a school of hundreds, maybe we can count only a handful of people as friends, with many others passively or actively disliking us. Perhaps we were rejected by several people before finding someone romantically interested in us, and the rejection can often be defeating and insulting.

A job search could involve hundreds of resumes sent out in the hopes of one interview, let alone a job offer, making us doubt our qualifications to be productive in the world. So why not assume the world is unkind and we should feel and act accordingly?

Another possibility is that we struggled to receive love because it did not match how we felt physically or emotionally. For example, if we struggle with depression, we are biologically wired to be more aware of, focus on, and remember unkind and hateful information that matches our mood state. It feels more real and truthful to us as compared with someone complimenting us. Because how can someone love us when we feel so bad?

Or, if we experience chronic pain from an injury, the positive feedback we may receive is drowned out by the focus on our physical pain.

But one reason that we embrace the dark side is that we are trying to be kind and loving by protecting ourselves. For example, we may refrain from basking in the glow of receiving a good grade in school for fear of becoming complacent and not working as hard.

And suppose we have already been more attuned to unkind or hateful feedback from the world. In that case, we may find a more traditional kind and loving thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards ourselves and others to be more elusive. Or, if someone has somehow hurt us, we may avoid being kind to them and letting our guard down to prevent being hurt again. Thus, we find purpose in harnessing the power of the dark side to support self-protection.

And there is some truth to these suppositions. Our emotions are designed to motivate us to a degree. For example, it is adaptive to feel anxious in the presence or possibility of danger. Similarly, it is helpful to feel anger towards people who have wronged us. But the result is an unfortunate cycle whereby we soon find that we are consumed with our hate and have less emotional space and energy for love. And we find that the simple process of loving and being loved is disrupted – as are the benefits that we receive from that process, such as finding a connection with ourselves and others.

I have been thinking a lot about this issue since talking with John Joseph on The Hardcore Humanism Podcast. Despite the adversity he has faced throughout his life – abuse, neglect, incarceration, homelessness, and addiction – he constantly returns to kindness. He has dedicated himself to being kind to himself and helping others as he progresses on his purpose-driven goals. And our conversation got me thinking about how we can be more open to loving and being loved.

So, what do we do? Overall, rather than finding purpose in hate, we must find purpose in kindness. It's easy to find a reason to hate. And those reasons may feel and be entirely legitimate. It’s in recognition of how easily we can be pulled into a hateful, unkind place that we must assert our determination to find purpose in kindness.

This may sound hippy-dippy – but it boils down to very concrete and practical thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Specifically, we must make loving – being kind, compassionate, caring, and giving – a priority in daily practice. We must focus on understanding and evaluating our lives into two core processes -- loving and being loved. How do we love ourselves, how do we love others, and how do we receive love from ourselves and others. And we must evaluate what we are thinking, feeling, and doing from that perspective. Suddenly, it becomes easier to determine which things we are thinking, doing, or feeling that are consistent rather than inconsistent with that kind and loving purpose.

Further, there is a power in finding purpose in kindness. Perhaps the most incredible power is that we have control over the process. We can’t always control how we feel. Nor are we always going to be on point with behaving kindly to ourselves and towards others. But we maintain our resolve and determination to make kindness a central focus of our purpose. There is an infinite number of ways of being kind to ourselves and others at any given moment. We can decide who we want to be more kind towards and choose concrete loving behaviors that we’d like to undertake. And by putting our focus and actions into daily practice, we can build a more caring culture around us.

To be clear, this does not mean ignoring, avoiding, or suppressing the “dark side” of our feelings. It is not a loving act to ignore ourselves or avoid negative emotions or negative feelings of others. This is when we need to employ kindness and listen to ourselves and to others with the intent of helping rather than suppressing. Ultimately, finding purpose in kindness feels better. Over time, it will feel more enticing and natural to be kind and to connect with ourselves and others.

And the dark side won’t feel nearly as quick, easy, or seductive.

References

You can listen to Dr. Mike's conversation with John Joseph on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast on HardcoreHumanism.com or on your favorite podcast.

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