The Space between Integrity and Kindness

Meditation offered at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist  Church January 26, 2020 ~Kelly Knox

The Dalai Lama tells us, be kind whenever possible – period - It is always possible- period.

When Reverend Janet asked me earlier this month if I would speak to the intersection of kindness and integrity, of course, I said yes. I also told her that, embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Imagine, a year of exploring kindness and not explicitly thinking how it intersects with integrity. But I hadn’t. Not explicitly.

For those who don’t know, I started The Kindness Project last year as a series of events that provide the opportunity and space for dialog about kindness. In 2019, we did three Kindness Cafes. We invited the community to no-cost dinners and with the use of a deck of cards with questions about kindness as conversation starters, we discussed what kindness meant to ourselves, our families and the larger community. If you are interested in learning what we will be doing this year, please ask me during chili hour.

As I considered kindness and integrity, it dawned on me, integrity is the whole point of The Kindness Project.

The Kindness Project fertilized in the fall of 2018. I took the Boston Ferry to Provincetown with a friend for the day. We were just getting to know each other and having a great time doing so. Until a few hours into our visit. Sometime after lunch, a young woman walked past us on Commercial Street with a t-shirt that said “kindness always wins.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, let’s just say I am not skilled at containing my feelings, when it comes to injustice. Perhaps you’re wondering where’s the injustice in that? Kindness always wins? That’s pretty benign Kelly. It’s actually quite nice.

But here’s the thing: kindness does not always win and saying it does, lacks integrity. Saying so, believing so is an affront to justice. Justice is a matter of Integrity. It not only lacks truth, but by saying so, by believing that kindness always wins, by propagating it, it blinds us to the truth and in the end kindness will lose. If we turn a blind eye to harsh truth – in this situation that unkind, even evil, wins sometimes – we cannot effectively fight the injustice of all that is unkind.

I much prefer the t-shirts that simply say Kindness Wins. That is true. Kindness does win. But it is often hard won. Real kindness is not easy. It’s complex. It is not as simple as an act of kindness. Important as acts of kindness are, let me point out that the lovely person who bought you a no-fat, extra foam, additional shot, cafe latte in the drive through at Starbucks, that person could be a serial killer.

Allowing ourselves the dignity of being grounded by truth, by integrity, by justice, kindness will win more often.

Back to Provincetown. As the young woman with the t-shirt passed us by, I indignantly, and admittingly out of context, said, “that’s just not true.” “What?” my surprised friend asked. “That t-shirt. Kindness does not always win,” I snapped. And my friend and I were off on a disagreement that tainted the rest of the day and the longevity of our friendship.

I tell you the story because that moment is the seed of The Kindness Project. If the argument didn’t happen, The Kindness Project would not exist. The argument planted itself in my head and was nourished by the worsening civil discourse in our world and the crazy unkind happenings in Washington DC. So, in early 2019, The Kindness Project was born. I could not, not do it. Some force greater than me drew me to its creation. That spirit continues to nag. It is the only reason The Kindness Project 2020 exists.

When we live with integrity, we act in just ways. Our actions match our values. When we live out of step with integrity, when our actions don’t align with our truth, values, and sense of justice we experience cognitive dissonance – the psychological distress experienced when actions are different from our values.

Unearthing values that we authentically connect with is also not without effort. Throughout our life values are planted within us by others and unless you take the time and space to parse out what is true for you and what is not, you’ll consistently experience a low-grade cognitive dissonance fever, because whether explicit or implicit, your actions won’t be measured against what you think is true, but what really is true. For example, if you believe you are always kind, but you do, say or act in unkind ways – perhaps you respond in a passive aggressive manner – you might not even recognize you are being unkind, but your psyche will and you will feel dis-ease.

Kindness is a value that most of us hold. Always being kind is hard. Some might even dispute the Dalai Lama and say always being kind is impossible. Real kindness, the kind born of truth, of integrity, of justice, takes a great deal of worthy effort. When we value kindness without exploring our truths about kindness, acting kind in difficult circumstances WILL be impossible and we too will experience a consistent low-grade cognitive dissonance fever.

Naomi Shahib Nye offers a pathway to being kind in her poem Kindness. How the poem came about is an interesting and apropos story.

Naomi was on her honeymoon in South Africa with her husband. The plan was to travel the country north to south by bus. One day, shortly into their trip, the bus was violently robbed. They lost everything except the pencil and pad in Naomi’s back pocket. Yet Naomi and her husband felt tremendous gratitude for life, as another man on the bus had been murdered.

Frightened and physically shaken, she recalls a man from the bus being kind to her. A calming kindness from a man who experienced the exact same thing. It was onsite that Naomi wrote the poem. She doesn’t claim to be the author, rather the scribe.  Naomi heard a women’s voice. She found a quiet place to sit with pencil and pad, listened intently and wrote.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible claims the Dalai Lama. One could argue, that after having witnessed a man being murdered and then robbed of all possessions, kindness was not possible. Yet it was. For that man, it was only kindness that made sense anymore.

The Kindness Project is a social justice movement. It encourages the exploration of truth or, as I now can clearly see, the exploration of the integrity of kindness.

The title of this reflection is The Space between Integrity and Kindness. And so, I tell you, without doubt, truth and justice sit between “Be Kind whenever possible.” and. “It is always possible.” Truth and justice sit between “know[ing] what kindness really is.” And having kindness “go with you everywhere, like a shadow or a friend.” It is truth and justice my friends, that sit in the space between integrity and kindness.