I went to the dentist recently with my daughter, and we parked in front of the house. I was on my way to the parking ticket machine when someone called me from behind. The driver of the car parked next to us before passed by at walking pace and handed me his day ticket through the open window. I thanked him for his kindness, and he drove on. Two days later my daughter was still stunned by the selfless act of the man who didn't even know us. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to explain my mantra "Kindness is the most important thing" to her in such a direct way and to let her, as the recipient, feel firsthand how beautiful and nourishing embodied humanity is.
What does the world need most right now?
"What does the world need most right now?" was the question I saw in a Facebook post in early December. My answer is straightforward: humanity. To be allowed to be human, to allow oneself to be human, and simply to allow oneself to feel, think and act like a human being. Being human to each other is a quality that has been neglected in the past weeks and months. This may be a subjective feeling, supported by the fact that there have of course been fewer opportunities to see each other, to hug each other, and to share happiness. On the other hand, this is precisely why it is so important to connect to each other right now. Whether on a walk in nature or by video, whether by voice message or old-fashioned telephone call – connection always finds a way. I have found that the first lockdown was also a kind of measuring stick for whether a particular relationship would uphold or whether the contact was just a matter of habit. It reminded me of my many past moves from one country to the other, which repeatedly let the proverb "out of sight, out of mind" painfully reveal its true essence. But then, I have learned, that is how life is. Everything changes, and relationships change too. There was room for grief, for acceptance and for letting go.
The loss of a friend or acquaintance has nothing to do with humanity or the lack of it; it is a natural process in the course of relationships. There is also room for humanity in the breaking off of a relationship. Here, I am talking about moments of compassion for lonely people; of giving a helping hand to vulnerable individuals, as the scouts showed in spring time; of a simple but sadly unfulfilled "Hello, how are you?" by video from the class teacher; the willingness not to be numbed by the daily number of infections and deaths; the decision to step out of one's own comfort zone and call someone; the courage to meet your own shadows and not directly blame someone else for your difficulties; and the conviction that being a true leader does not simply mean that you delegate tasks, but that you really want to see and meet the team and each individual. From one human to another human being.
People are tired
In spring and summer there was a lot of solidarity and help, and that is wonderful. But the events and upheavals of life take their toll; people are tired of it all. Insecurity, the perceived lack of clear information and agency or control over what is happening – these three factors are the main stressors in a person's life. And all three have been present again and again for months, on a small and on a large scale. That makes us tired, that makes us weary and that makes us close down. Even if some people don't want to admit it and still only want to get "back to normality", it is a fact that there will be no "back". And what does "normal" even mean? Life never passes you by without leaving a trace, and what has happened has and will continue to leave an echo. Many have been hit hard and will continue to be hit.
Connecting from one human heart to another
But the most important thing is to be human to each other. Meeting each other openly, speaking from heart to heart. We don't have to do this constantly – that is not necessary or possible. After all, it starts with meeting oneself with kindness and care. Looking at oneself with interest, wakefulness and friendliness. "How am I actually doing right now? What would do me good in this moment?" And then, again and again, very consciously and full of intention, really recognizing the other person. It does not cost anything, and it benefits both – the sender and the receiver – as numerous research studies have shown.
What could this look like? There are countless ways, but my favourite is still the attentive seeing of the other person. To see the other in his joy, in his situation, and yes, in his pain. Seeing, accepting and not turning away. This by itself creates friendliness and connectedness. The next time, I will also try to pass on my parking ticket. It's not about the 80 cents that someone else saves. It is about the priceless feeling of being seen. All I want for Christmas is a little bit more humanity, for myself and for everyone else.
"My religion is kindness." Dalai Lama