Our streets are talking to us. The talk is loud and mostly true. It says, “Black lives matter”, “Marginalization of some hurts everyone”, “Separation breeds ignorance and fear”, “Leadership from ego cannot hold those who are following” and “It’s time to recall the power of kindness and compassion”.
These voices can be ignored or they can be heard as a soulful plea for change. The listening we do can be shaped and crafted by altruism. It doesn’t always get enacted automatically.
Sometimes being intentional or deliberate about kindness will be significant. We can ask: Is this my time to listen? Am I willing to stop postponing a compassionate ear? What might get in the way of listening kindly now? If this is my time to hear compassionately, what action will I take to demonstrate I am truly listening? Action becomes a living testimony regarding what was heard actually matters.
When We Think Only the Recipient Benefits
Certainly, acting altruistically or kindly is important and can greatly benefit the recipient of such benevolence. What happens when we see our compassionate deeds as only benefiting the recipient?
First of all, there is likely an unconscious motivation on behalf of the giver. As that motive goes unfulfilled, acts of kindness tend to wither due to hidden dissatisfaction. We run the risk of feeling resentful, and falling prey to seeing ourselves as giving too much with no viable return. The best psychology suggests that consciously or unconsciously, giving is accompanied by some measure of self-interestedness. Our kindness becomes robust, genuine and long lasting when accompanied by mindful self-interestedness.
Beyond Altruism – The Gift of Self-Interest
Nothing galvanizes a response to those marginalized more than knowing how our kindness serves us. Let’s look more closely at how it benefits the privileged personally, to listen and respond with kindness to those marginalized.
*Interrupting looking down on a particular group can restore us with the power and responsibility to support our own self-worth. Looking down at a particular group creates the illusion of being on top. Our biases offer a temporary buoyancy to a desperate need to feel good about ourselves. Viewing others as equals offers the opportunity to be both empowered and responsible for how we feel about ourselves.
*Increases a capacity to manage life when finding ourselves in a marginalized group. At 27-years-old, I became the father of a disabled daughter, born with a rare neurological disorder, leaving her non-verbal with some gross and fine motor skills being compromised. She became the conduit for me into the world of ableism. Numerous questions began to surface: How can we support her entitlement to educational resources? How do we identify who is the best medical resource? How can we assure her access to social institutions such as theaters, museums and libraries? Where do we find her peer group? How do we access financial support for housing? How to cope with the glaring stares? I quickly became familiar with the lack of privilege and entitlement granted folks who are disabled. It could happen to you. We never know when due to an accident, illness, aging or loss of an income, we can easily move into being a member of a marginalized group.
*Develop a more robust resiliency to address diverse preferences, beliefs and values. Diversity lives much closer to home than the other side of the railroad tracks. If family members are growing and honoring who they truly are, they will carry different beliefs and values from our own. We have the daily choice to face difference by ignoring it, attempting to influence and change it or listen and learn for the difference. Anyone interested in creating a family that welcomes difference and fosters collaboration, will practice relating to diverse beliefs and values wherever the opportunity shows itself. It is a lifelong practice.
*Fosters a more expansive view of the human condition. Again, we don’t know when life will call us to a larger vision of humanity. A daughter comes home with a lesbian girlfriend, a son marries outside the family religion, a son declares his intention to inter-racially marry or a transgender colleague at the office is assigned to a project with you.
*Healing our own early experiences of marginalization. It is inevitable that as children, we had some challenge at one time or another to be included in the game, at the party, at the lunch table, in the playground or in the group. When we reach out now to someone currently struggling with a lack of privilege or entitlement, we bring a healing ointment to our own early losses regarding feeling unwelcomed and excluded. A single act of generosity can transcend time, as we hold ourselves and the other with compassion.
*Getting to know ourselves better. Recently, while talking to an African American man about the responses white folks are having to “Black lives matter”, he smiled and said, “You’re an exceptional man.” I replied, “Oh no, no. I’m not an exceptional man, I’m simply committed to understanding my conscious and unconscious biases, so I might strengthen my vision. Nothing exceptional here, just a man not wanting to walk around with only one eye.” Living the question, “Who am I in regard to those who are marginalized?” allows me to get to know myself better. I will never be free of all biases, which will certainly skew my vision. My goal is not to be totally bias free, but to engender the best version of what I perceive.
Anytime we are thrown into a context of diversity with strangers, neighbors, friends or family, we have the choice to strengthen our emotional intelligence and maturation. The strengthening happens by listening, forgoing winning or being right, remaining open to making an offering of kindness and remembering that there is an opportunity for personal gain in the offering of kindness.