Here’s the number-one most important New Year’s resolution in a word — well, two words.
If you think about it, kindness is everything. Love, of course, is everything too. But unlike love, which is something that strikes or that we grow or fall into, kindness is something that we choose. Unlike love, kindness can be practiced. We can practice kindness even when we are feeling decidedly unloving.
Acts of kindness are hardest to practice with those difficult people in our lives who evoke our anger, frustration, disappointment, and the whole range of painful emotions that make us human. Yet it’s here that kindness is most essential, because these folks are likely to be our parents, in-laws, relatives, partners, children, and close friends.
It is in our most important and enduring relationships that we are least likely to be our best selves.
Kindness is what the world needs more of. It is not optional, not an “extra.” It is rather a human necessity. Plus, it’s good for us. Meditation practices focusing on loving kindness have been shown to have a wealth of positive effects, from health benefits, like better control of blood glucose and less inflammation, to an increase in social connectedness. Kindness changes the structure of your brain.
Two centuries ago, the novelist Henry James said these words: “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” Today, more than any other period in my lifetime, there is less kindness in public life, which trickles down and invites people to be less kind in our personal lives. Never in my lifetime has the subject of kindness carried such weight.
“Be kind” is the most important New Year’s resolution that any of us can make. In almost every interaction that we have, we either diminish or enhance another person. The practice of kindness includes being kind and compassionate to yourself, as well.
Kindness is not some kind of sentimental pap requiring us to please and placate others, to hold relationships in place as if our lives depended on it, or to accommodate to unfair circumstances. Life requires us to take difficult actions, to speak difficult words, and to confront injustice and unfairness where we see it.
But this is what I know to be true. Everything that can be said can be said with kindness. Every tough position we have to take can be taken with kindness. No exceptions.