Choosing kindness is a selfish decision

Choosing Kindness as your flag and standard, as the way you choose to operate in the world, may be the single most important decision you make in your life. It will wildly increase the quality of your life. I am betting this website that I can convince you, because i know this knowledge to be a deep internal truth that affects the direction of all lives, whether or not you are aware of it and accept it.

I really love being a psychiatrist, a lot more than other things I have done or been. But sometimes it is terribly hard. I always want to cry with the victims. Empathy is always the first step. But then I want to go beyond. I want to get rid of suffering for those people who never make it to my office. Idealistic, a wildly global decision about what the earth should be like (and other planets when available).

Many people are trying to achieve a spirituality in a seemingly excessively vicious world by reviving ancient methods of relaxation. I am not critical of them, for I have tried or used many, especially those associated with my origin and ethnicity, for I have long been fascinated by the path of Jewish mysticism.

This has helped me stay chronically optimistic about the fate of man.

Another little Jewish girl, in a far worse situation, had the same idea.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

She was a true victim. She made every choice she could to make things better but did not have enough power to change the life she drew.

We can, but the process is a bit long.

I cannot speak of my patients’ lives.  I can speak of my own.

I was as bullied as any child I have known. I was in a closed religious community where women had lower status than men. I was “Fatso” and “Brain” as if that were not the organ anyone wanted. Children can be cruel. Strict religious precepts may actually contribute to this, as well as discipline.

There is lots of great stuff about loving-kindness, but “Spare the rod and spoil the child” gets quoted a lot more.

It is easier to get angry or get even than it is to take revenge.

This kind of sentiment, of anger and revenge and punishment, takes on a life of its own and perpetuates itself.

I have been expelled or excluded, in my younger days, from too many institutions, for being too clever. This did not make me very happy. My resultant quote:”Being gifted is no gift.”

Punishment is “negative reinforcement.”

You do something to someone who does wrong and they stop doing it to avoid the bad thing.

Everybody who has made it through Psychology 101 should have heard of Pavlov and his dog.

We need to give the Russians their props on this one.

Rewards work a lot better than punishment.

Dr. Pavlov rang a bell and the dog, who knew meat was coming, started salivating.

Little mice who have to pump a lever to get rat yummy food pellets will pump like crazy to get their mouse-yummies.

I spent my required training time in child psychiatry mostly elaborating upon telling parents to “catch your child doing something good” and to reward them when they do.

(Just do me a favor and avoid rewarding them with candy because they could be rewarding themselves 20 or 30 years later.)

Kindness generates kindness in return. This has been shown to be “contagious” in a big bunch of scientific experiments. So do it. Your life can only get better.

It seems to multiply in the universe. You may not see the results right away. The person may mumble a “thank-you” or nothing at all. You have a story to tell that made you feel better about yourself, that you can share, that might inspire others. So many times I have told folks about a person whom I never saw before or since helping me get a basket at the supermarket.

You have a story to tell that made you feel better about yourself, that you can share, that might inspire others. So many times I have told folks about a person whom I never saw before or since helping me get a basket at the supermarket.  Me, who walks with a cane and remains in enthusiastic denial of my handicap.

Sustained kindness makes the quality of all relationships better. All. The more time you spend together, the more dramatic it can be.

I think my husband will forgive me for using him as an example.

Before we married, by husband would be up, pounding his computer throughout the wee hours. I was a bit surprised that he seemed “addicted” to this machine when he stared at the screen. He would never say anything “bad” to me, not ever, but sometimes there were “jokes” that felt “unfunny.” I made the bold decision that negative reinforcement

He was raised in a different culture, a macho culture of rough humor.  He would never say anything “bad” to me, not ever, but sometimes there were “jokes” that felt “unfunny.” I made the bold decision that negative reinforcement

I made the bold decision that negative reinforcement would never change him. I have as a recurrent vision, one of my psychiatry supervisors who showed us his hands punching each other and rising higher. Aggression that is dealt with in angry aggression, can only escalate.

I am not recommending this strategy to others. This man was unaware he had gone through the most vigorous and thorough psychiatric assessment I had ever done, which is saying a lot for me (It had taken a whole year complete my assessment, an all-time record, I think.)

I decided to show him kindness by never criticizing him. It worked, of course. All errors are minimized. All virtues praised.

I “shaped” his behavior. I always “caught him being good” and minimized or ignored any consequences if he were wrong, which of course could not happen because he is perfect. It is easy to find fault, but getting angry because he may have, for example, forgotten to do something, will not make him remember. I would not say something negative to him, ever; at least I try not do. Negative escalates with more negative and things might get angry and negative. But I know enough psychology to know it will never, ever, help him to remember better.

Instead he gets a comment more like “It amazes me how hard you try to do things to help me. I really love you.”

I could not do this unless I were crazy in love with this guy, which I absolutely am. And over time, He thinks of me in wonderful ways I would not have thought possible.

Obviously, not all the relationships in your life will merit this level of focus or intensity. but the fact remains, “Positives” shape behavior more intensely than negatives. To me, this is a basic way to change behavior in specific situations.

Being positive and loving in a personal relationship has enormous fringe benefits which will not be described here.

He still is borderline computer addicted, but he does wonderful things for us all the time, and we have the best marriage known to me.

I have seen couples split because of ideological differences about how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste, then escalate because of sensitivity, anger, and the like.

No matter what you believe — science, religion, or something nobody told me about — this is in our brains, this is “hard wired,” this is the way we rise above this visceral reaction of animals in the wild and children who have not been “socialized.” Focusing on this kind of behavior makes life better, humanity better. Kindness is about starting that process, one word at a time.

The first part is empathy. imagining how another person feels. People connect easily from sharing their woes. This is why “support groups” work to bring people together. From structured group therapy to informal groups of friends you have heard this as I have, whether it be the next pew at church or the next table in a restaurant.

People connect easily from sharing their woes. This is why “support groups” work to bring people together. From structured group therapy to informal groups of friends you have heard this as I have, whether it be the next pew at church or the next table in a restaurant.

By reading this, you are making me feel much better, really. I am doing something good because I can hand you the first building block for the stairs.

I am surprised how many folks don’t know how to increase kindness. It may be helpful to know you want more of it in your life and in your world. I am convinced this is the ultimate preventive psychiatry, as cruelty seems to me often to be related to psychiatric illness. In can improve the life of the individual.

I believe it can reduce cruelty in the world, and raise the ethical level of the human species. We will give you practical suggestions you can share with each other.

Me, the way was clear. I am not much of an athlete — and now, I walk with a cane. I meet my patients at the front desk, as jolly and welcoming as I can be, because most patients, especially those who have never seen a psychiatrist before, fantasize we are evil guys and our hobby is locking people up. By the time we walk back to the door of my office, I will appreciate someone helping this lady who is leaning on a cane, close the door to the office.

A few people help me spontaneously; most do not, and I have learned to ask them to close the door for me, instead of fumbling. They do me a great service, and I think feel a bit more powerful in life because I have helped them to feel good. This is not an original idea, any more than “catching people doing good.”

Like Anne Frank, the horrible privation and destruction of World War II inspired many to noble thoughts. I think of the work of Viktor Frankl who gave the example of a patient who falls and is assisted by the nurse, makes the nurse feel important, and “good.”

My strength is words — my weakness is physical. I dish out the best words I have. I really believe my real duty is to elevate the spirit on anyone who ends up talking to me. To make them feel better and stronger and more confident.

I always have the physical help I wanted to deny I need anyway.

So pretty much any question or problem you may have about either your personal life or your life in the world, your answer will turn out to be something to do with kindness.

So don’t worry about why.
Just do it.
Here’s how.
KINDNESS.

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