Remind me how to be kind again.
June 14, 2011 1:07 PM   Subscribe

Remind me how to be kind again.

I used to be kind. Helpful. Caring.

For the past year, there's been a steady decline in that. It's been a rough year, with sickness in the family and harsher economic realities due to said sickness. Now, when I hear tales of woe, from strangers or friends, I'm not as inclined to be kind. Even when I am, I feel bitter or unkind on the inside. Even when I'm kind and genuinely mean it, it feels like a huge effort to do. The general feeling is that the world is harsh and it really doesn't matter whether I am nice or not. There is a growing feeling of "Fuck you and your problems, what about me and mine? Deal with your own shit, just like I do." My world is growing progressively smaller and colder, I no longer care much about the outside world (Screw the Arab spring or the possibility of legal gay marriage in New York, or whatever).

What sort of things can I do to gain back the desire to be kind, caring and helpful to other people?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like that sometimes and I feel like with me it has to do with a lack of resources forcing prioritization of energies. The remedy is to make sure you're being kind for yourself so you have that kind of energy to spare for others. Take care of yourself.
posted by bleep at 1:14 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Don't beat yourself up for not feeling something you feel you ought to be feeling. That said, practice makes perfect. Put yourself in a situation where you're able to help people regularly. Sometimes you'll feel like you're just going through the motions -- that's perfectly okay. Other times you'll be glad you were there to give someone the help they needed.

Any personal practice is like this -- yoga, meditation, recovery. Going through the motions is the bare minimum that's required, it is the first step. It helps you set a default standard for your investment in yourself and others. How far you go from there is purely up to you.

I had to literally practice smiling when I was walking around in the city, so that it would be my default expression when I caught someone's attention. I feel much less now like I'm walking around emitting a force field of negativity that is then reflected back at me.
posted by hermitosis at 1:15 PM on June 14, 2011

I'm sorry it's been such a bad year for you. Are there kindnesses in your life? Anyone listening to you, supporting you, taking care of you? To me it sounds like you're exhausted by your current stresses and don't have a whole lot left over to give others. That is understandable. So my advice would be start being kind to yourself. Little things; give yourself to take a walk, to sit in the sun for a few minutes, to take a long bath, to enjoy a cup of tea or whatever recharges you. Reach out to others and let them be kind to you. Ask them for help (sitting with your family member for a little while so you can get groceries, just listen while you vent, whatever). Get good rest and eat well. Then, little by little let yourself be kind to others too. Just little things. Hold a door for someone, pick up something they've dropped, give a compliment to a stranger. Maybe later pick something to volunteer for, even if it's just one hour. Over time, I have faith that your energy for being kind and caring will come back to you. In the meantime, give yourself to be a little selfish if it means you can be a lot caring later.
posted by goggie at 1:16 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Bleep has it. You've been through a wringer; maybe you're trying to withhold all that inner compassion for your own self, because right now you really need it.

Going easy on yourself is a good place to start. When you're feeling better about your own self, it's easier to be kind towards others.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

This book is a fantastic soul pick-me-up, and more spiritual than religious. When I read it, it reminds me of the brighter world I would like to live in instead of the meaner one my negative mindset tells me I live in.
posted by griselda at 1:19 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had to literally practice smiling when I was walking around in the city

This is actually a great thing.

Recent research has seemed to indicate that smiling actually makes you feel happier. There's some real neurological chicken-and-egg questioning about this -- do we smile because we are happy, or are we happy because we are smiling? Or some of both?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:22 PM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

My best friend has been treating my like sh** for the past two weeks. Perhaps she is going through what you are feeling. Let me remind you that there is a soul behind every person, and no matter how much they seem to annoy you - remember that your actions can really hurt others and bring them to your painful place. If you generate negativity, it will backfire at you. So think about it. If you want to be kind, kindness will come back at you double fold. If you want to be miserable, the world will reciprocate a hundred fold.
posted by mrdexterous at 1:23 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

The next time something sweet or funny happens- even just something tiny, like seeing a little kid staring at a dog, consider writing a very short description of it and emailing it to a few friends you haven't spoken with in a while. "Dear Lee, Today I came home from the laundromat with a stranger's socks. How did this happen? It's a mystery. I'll probably never understand. How are you?" Send that simple message (cut & paste and send separately, not in a mass email) to a few friends. Tiny little reaching-outs like that can help warm up and invigorate a social network and remind you that you're loved. That might help you- sometimes it helps me. I hope things feel better for you soon.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:24 PM on June 14, 2011 [23 favorites]

Volunteer. One-time volunteering I folded hundreds (maybe even thousands) of clean diapers to give to needy families. It was something really practical I did for babies who sure as hell didn't do anything to deserve their poverty. If you can walk away from something like that feeling bad about yourself or the world you really are jaded. The other bonus of volunteering is that you meet lots of kind, genuinely caring people. And it's really hard to feel like a grouchy ass when you are around people like that consistently.

Also, a lot of people get energized by working with underprivileged kids. They certainly get you out of your own head.
posted by bananafish at 1:25 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

A part of it has to be a question of prioritization-- do you really need to feel gently toward gays who want to get married in New York? Sure, it's something you could care about, but plenty of gay activists don't think it's a good idea or worth wasting emotional energy on. So if professional activists allocate energy rationally, so can you. I feel like there's a difference between social pleasantries or considerate/open-minded beliefs and kindness. People who care about gay marriage aren't automatically kind, and neither are people who hold doors open or help old ladies across the street-- it's all a function of beliefs, habits, social pressures and so on. For instance, a Southern gentleman raised in a certain way may help little old ladies and give to charity but hate those awful gays. I'm not saying it sucks to do those things, but it's not that vital that you allocate energy for them.

Anyway, the important thing is to be kind to yourself. People who value kindness often feel uncomfortable or otherwise skimp on self-care. Rather than simply huddling or buckling down under the pressure, try to make sure to do the things you enjoy, to make time for relaxing activities-- baths, light reading, music, whatever it is that you may cut to save time and energy. We give of ourselves to share our bounty and express our genuine concern-- there is no other responsibility outside of a religious edict to do good works. Looking at it from a point of view that's genuine, it's actually a negative habit if you force yourself. Realize that while some people think any smile is good from anyone, as someone raised in NYC, I can tell you I don't really want people to look at me or smile at me. It's ok, you can simply become invisible for awhile, neither 'good' nor 'bad'. Cities are good at facilitating that. There's nothing wrong with it.

Soak up others' good vibes instead-- go to a park to watch children playing, go to a public concert, etc. I don't think it sounds like you're simply having a bad day, or are grouchy and need to 'cheer up', so allow yourself to feel the way you do. If someone else was feeling this stressed, what would be the kind response? Surely it's good to allow that person to go at their own pace towards their former 'normal'. I would say if you want to expand your circle of kindness outside yourself, start with people who mean the most to you-- it's usually easier to feel soft towards ones you love a lot already than towards strangers. You'll also be more likely to get direct and immediate positive reinforcement that means more than a thanks from a stranger, I would guess. Remember that charity is not the same as kindness, but try to be kind to those you love.
posted by reenka at 1:30 PM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

Plato (allegedly) said that. He was a smart dude. When I'm feeling unkind, I try to keep this in mind. (It's also posted above my desk in case I forget.) Give people the benefit of the doubt.

You've had some hard battles. Be kind to yourself, too.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 1:34 PM on June 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think being nice to actual real world people that you encounter is more important that thinking good thoughts about the Arab Spring or other causes. To me, actions matter more than thoughts, intentions, or vague feelings. No Mrs. Jellyby's in my house.

And, if you act as you should, your feelings will adapt themselves. So, let the guy with 1 item in his basket go ahead of you, leave a bigger tip, pick up your trash, smile at someone's feeble joke, and all the rest of the little things that lube up the gears of daily life.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2011

you may find some usefulness in The Lost Art of Compassion.
posted by scody at 1:40 PM on June 14, 2011

It's okay to put yourself first sometimes. You've had a rough time, you're climbing back up, and right now you are focused on your own problems and trying to get past them. That's normal.

It's kinda like sometimes you'll hear people saying things like, "There's no such thing as love," or "You can't trust anyone," because they've just come out of a relationship where they were treated badly by the person they cared about.

It's a coping mechanism.

And it only becomes a problem if you allow it to continue to color your view. Which is why it is important that you don't shut yourself off from the rest of the world. As things start to get better, I think your own bitterness and depression will left away and you'll be able to start seeing kindness in the world and responding to others with kindness as well, as part of the natural healing process.

But if it doesn't, finding a way to get outside yourself and help others is a good way to put everything back in perspective again.
posted by misha at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

It may not matter to the world as a whole, but it matters to the actual people you interact with. And I think there's a ripple effect.

There were two girls working at the local coffee shop where I got my cappuccino through the drive thru today - the first one was polite enough but you could tell she was in kind of a sour mood. Then the second girl saw my dog and came up to the window and started talking to me about dogs and snagged a piece of bacon and gave it to my dog (after asking me first). I felt totally different than I had a few minutes before. It didn't really matter that she was friendly and nice to me and the dog, but it did matter, because I found myself thinking that I wanted to pay that forward (cliche, I know, but whatever). I just felt *better* and I have all day.

You don't have to care about the whole world and every problem in it, far from it, but I firmly believe that you should do what you can to lighten the load for the people you are in contact with, friends and family and strangers. And you know what, I have been shitty about that for years now, who am I to tell you about this, because I have been the same way. So I thank you for asking this, because I'm going to take it as my own wake up call.

Your kindness could be the difference in someone's day. So force yourself to look for opportunities, and then take those opportunities. And when you catch yourself feeling bitter and unkind and judgmental, honestly take a minute to think it through - people have all kinds of shit going on that just isn't obvious from the outside, and try to have thoughts that are as kind as you would want someone to think of you (again cliche, I'm sorry - rambling and cliche today).

I have a little tear in my eye! I promise you it matters.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:56 PM on June 14, 2011 [18 favorites]

Yeah, had this problem.
My answer was awareness and practice.
My mantra became "Be less of a dick."
When I realized I was being mean or thoughtless, I apologized and made amends as quickly as possible. When it was to a friend, I reiterated my mantra and my friends helped me keep to the narrow path.
Attempting to change your mind is a good way to change your mind. Showing your friends and the world that you are trying to be a decent person is the best way to bring our decent interactions with those people. Realizing that one you have acted out you can still apologize and try to make it okay is better than acting out and leaving that hanging out there in the world to foul other peoples' days.

But it has been a struggle for me.
There were times, many times, in my life when the best way for me not to be a dick was to be a hermit. Nothing says you need to be social. It is okay sometimes to go about your life and only interact with people on a basic, superficial level. If you are flat and emotionless with a cashier, they won't mind. You don't need to be nice all of the time.
It does help if your friends understand that you are going into a state of hermitude so they won't become overly concerned when you stop answering their calls. People tell tales of woe because they need to be heard. Do you tell your own tales? If you don't need to tell and don't want to hear tales of woe, take some time for yourself. I did and it made me better than I was. hell, it made me appreciate people more for having experienced the times without.

But then there are also the avenues of therapy or meditation as others have mentioned above. Whatever it is, just keep trying.
posted by Seamus at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

If there's one thing everyone gets to share, it's pain. If you want to be compassionate, stop measuring these "tales of woe" against your own experiences, and start hearing them are variations of your own story. Personal details are just the tip of the iceberg -- underneath it all, in the murky places where words don't matter, you are floating in the same cold sea as your neighbor.

Okay, now I'm depressed.
posted by swift at 2:05 PM on June 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

I know how this can sometimes be. The only remedy is to get care for yourself. When you find yourself constricting and your life becoming, as you wrote, "smaller and colder", it's a very immediate signal to start taking urgent action to care for yourself. This is not a small thing. This is essential to your well-being. Don't underestimate it. And be gentle with yourself. You're doing so much.

Remember, it is possible that you are simply spent, and have nothing at the moment to give. That's a reality, and that's okay. Sometimes, we are de facto maxed out.

The care could mean taking time off and getting support for what could be clinical depression, or grief, or the toll that trauma and hard experiences exact from our systems, bodies, emotions, selves. It could mean taking time off for what could be the need for still, quiet time. It could mean asking for support from family and friends. It could mean taking a class. It could mean getting regular acupuncture or massage. It could mean doing all the things that nourish you: eating foods you like, being in places you like, reading books you like. I think it will have something to do with nature, greens. It may have to do with cold, wet noses of animals, or the soft fur of a cat, yours or someone else's animals. Something that gets you to soften up, spontaneously, without effort. Something that just brings a smile to your face, and you wonder, "Where did that smile come from?" And it's not at all forced. You'll know.

And when you get these external soft, kindnesses, you'll find that softness back in yourself, and it will fortify you. And you'll remember because you'll be getting what you need. And you'll learn that you'll need these experiences, in large or small—but definitely regular—doses indefinitely. It's not an intervention. It's just what we need to stay whole. In vitamins, we talk about loading doses. Probably in other contexts, too, but think about needing a loading dose for self-care right now.

When you write, "Even when I'm kind and genuinely mean it, it feels like a huge effort to do[,"] this tells me that you're depleted.

Some machines were not meant to preserve the softness of people. Some cities literally grind it out of us. But, you're not a machine. I'm thinking of words like allowance. For what it's worth.
posted by simulacra at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've heard many times that the best way to get out of your own head, and your own pain, is to help someone else. That can take shape in a lot of ways...A friend used to try and do something good for someone else and not get caught. It seemed to make her feel a lot better.

I think this can be effective as long as you've followed the advice at the top of the thread and made sure to take care of yourself first. I too have had a very difficult couple of years, and I've practiced saying no to people when to lend a hand would damage my own mental/emotional/spiritual space. It helped me evaluate how much I had to give and learn how to take care of myself first, then help others.

In addition to the Plato quote above, I like how Vonnegut said it "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." "
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 2:15 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find it very difficult to be a jerk when I have a kitten in my lap.
posted by desjardins at 2:16 PM on June 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

First of all, you don't have to feel any way about it, as long as you do right. I know of course that you want to feel better, but start with your behaviour.

If you can't manage kindness, try basic politeness. Get a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour and start being impeccably polite to everyone - writing thank-you notes, etc. These things are so infrequently done that people are thrilled by them, in my experience. Bonus: mean people absolutely haaaaaaate when you do this.

I've had a little bit of a trauma situation going on over the past year, and I found myself far less polite than usual - it took me a week to write a thank-you note for example sometimes, and there were one or two that I just didn't write at all, which, if you know me, is practically grounds for being involuntarily committed. I just did not have the energy. Now the physical sensations of trauma have left me, the world is blossoming again. You will feel better again, too, whatever is causing your pain now.

Just remember to be very, very kind and gentle with yourself and give yourself a mental hug on a regular basis. The tasks you have to do to get through a day, try reducing them to the minimum you can get away with and still retain your well-being.

You might also like to look to this thread for ways of rewarding yourself for getting through a day.

And yes, kittens. Try administering kittens to yourself.
posted by tel3path at 2:31 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you can separate the big huge intractable problems of the world from your day to day kindness. If you are going through such a rough time right now that you can't afford the mental energy to engage in helping the Arab Spring or adopt a child in Africa, or even give to Salvation Army, that's okay. You don't need to do those things, certainly not all the time. And they aren't pre-requisites to being kind.

Start with small courtesies. Offer to hold the door for a stranger. Give someone a hand who is struggling with a simple physical task. When someone is short or abrupt with you just take a deep breath and respond with peace and calm. When someone asks you for something you don't have it in you to give, be okay with that and just express that you wish you could help, but can't right now.

It really sounds like you need to take care of yourself and it isn't helpful to beat yourself up with an idealized image of your own potential kindness. Just do the little things you can and give it time.
posted by meinvt at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

No matter how hard life has been for you, always be thankful for the things you do have.
That message has always resonates with me when I am feeling particularly shitty and no matter how bad a situation/time frame is, I recall good things I do have in my life. No matter how small, or seemingly insignificant, there is always something.
posted by handbanana at 3:11 PM on June 14, 2011

I once heard a theory that went something like this: you have a jar. In it are some beans. You can fill this jar by picking up beans that you find and having people put beans in it. And you can give beans away to other people, to fill their jars, or just sprinkle them on the ground for other people to find.

I think what has happened is that a lot of the experiences you've had in the last year have been birds coming to peck at your beans and gobble them up. Right now, you don't have many beans, so you don't have any spare to give away. There aren't enough for you, let alone anyone else.

The trick now is to look even harder for more beans. And maybe ask people who have lots of beans to spare to give some to you too. When you find a bean, or get given one, make a big deal out of it. Smile at it as you cradle it in your hands before you put it in the jar. What form your beans take is up to you - some of my most special beans involve other people doing something small that helps me in a big way, like letting me out into traffic. When someone does that, they add a bean to my jar.

If you're out of practice, it can be hard to find beans lying around because they're quite well camouflaged. And you still have to watch out for birds, but the more beans you know you have, the more you can spare a few. You can't give something that you don't have.

Every day, I list all of the good things that happen to me. Every single day, having a hot shower is a guaranteed bean. I swear, hot water is something of a miracle. That's a bean. So is a cup of coffee with a friend. So is sitting on the sofa with my dog, reading a book.

Caring can sometimes lead to pain. It's natural to want to avoid it, so we bring down the emotional shutters and stop caring. The problem is, we're just left with ourselves to care about then. Which is fine, until you start dealing with other people. There comes a point, though, if you work on it long enough, where you can accept that there is good in the world and bad in the world and that you can't have one without the other. When you get that, on an emotional level and not just a rational one, you'll have al of the beans you'll ever need.
posted by Solomon at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2011 [31 favorites]

Along the lines of what meinvt. Narrow your world. It can be so tiring to care for the whole globe, so let it spin on its own for a while. The people and things that present themselves directly to you, well, they get some kindness from you. Drop the rest for now.

I'm not sure why I think this is worth mentioning, but you've brought it to mind. Used to be when street people asked me for money, it sent me in a spin of worry -- do I need to help them? what's my policy? blah, blah, blah. These day, I only give occasionally (money's a bit tight), but when I can't I look 'em in the eye and say "Sorry, pal, can't." Some grunt, others say "Well, you have a good day.". "You too".

Accept your limits. You're down now, and can't do all that you wish you could. Don't beat yourself up over it. You sound like the type who will eventually get back to where you were.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:30 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is totally schmoopy and cheesy, but it worked for me. As a Buddhist, I've tried (and continue to try) to expand my ability to be compassionate. Of course I have my own issues and often fail, but I still try. One thought experiment that really worked for me was to remember that not only do we all die - but we were all born. The moment we came into this world was the greatest moment in someone's life. Keeping this in mind has helped me a lot in dealing with strangers as well as people that I know. Sure, we're flawed and irritating, but we all started off perfect.

Since becoming a mother, this has just increased a zillion fold. Having a baby of my own makes me more inclined to be kind to others as we were all someone's baby at one point.

You may now reach for your in-flight airsickness bag.

(Also, as a Buddhist, it's been important for me to realize that before I can be compassionate to others, I have to be forgiving towards myself. Not as easy it would seem!)
posted by sonika at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

You asked this question because you miss being kind and want it back. Who is denying it to you?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:16 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The general feeling is that the world is harsh and it really doesn't matter whether I am nice or not.

Here's the thing: it does matter. You matter.

Your little kindnesses have the potential to change someone's day or maybe even their life. I am overwhelmed sometimes when I think of the thoughtful things people have done for me or said to me when I least expected or deserved it. The notion that I have the ability, the privilege even, to do that for someone else is enough to motivate me to listen, to do - even when I feel least like doing so.

I hope your days get brighter.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 4:18 PM on June 14, 2011

Oh my, solomon. Thank you so much for posting that.

anonymous, you don't have to be actively helpful to be kind and caring. Everyone suffers and everyone experiences joy. Right now you don't have much joy to share, so take care of yourself, and accept the care of others when it's offered. When the plane's in trouble and the oxygen masks come down, you need to put the mask on yourself before you can be any use to anyone else around you.
posted by headnsouth at 4:20 PM on June 14, 2011

Being depressed makes people irritable. Being sad, dealing with loss, difficulty, hardship, takes up your energy, and it takes energy to be cheerful and kind. But being cheerful, kind and not-a-dick has payback in the form of returned cheer, kindness, and not-a-dick. So be good to yourself, forgive yourself and others, and do your best.

I stole this from a jessamyn comment:
The koan that I use is "everyone's hardest struggle is their hardest struggle." The competitive suffering thing is rarely a useful way to talk about or to people who are in pain.
posted by theora55 at 6:10 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I certainly don't mean to say that you are engaging in competitive suffering. It's just the whole quote that I copied, to remind myself. And next time I feel like being pissy with somebody, I'll try to remember you, and remember that sometimes people are just having a shitty time and deserve a break. Surely I've wished for such a break more than a few times.
posted by theora55 at 6:12 PM on June 14, 2011

I agree with everyone saying to take care of yourself and your needs at this point!

Just wanted to suggest pursuing some sort of daily devotion to put things into perspective and draw strength from. If you're Christian, I recommend the One Year Bible. A bit of scripture (with helpful notes and easily understandable writing) can help you to start the day off with more compassionate eyes.

Also, you might be surprised at how you feel after reaching outside of yourself to genuinely listen to someone else's problems and be encourage them with uplifting words, even when you don't feel like it. It's sort of like faking it until you make it--acting happy and charitable until you get there again. The positive energy will come back to you. Doesn't work for everyone, but it's worked for me before. It can feel really good to have someone tell you you've made a difference for them.
posted by sunnychef88 at 6:19 PM on June 14, 2011

I had to come back, because this just happened:

It's kinda gloomy here tonight, cloudy and rainy. My roommate texted me a few minutes ago -- she just remembered that she'd left a whole load of clean clothes in the dryer of our building's laundry room. She had a crazy morning and ran out, completely forgetting about the clothes, something she's never done before.

I walked down to the laundry room, certain I'd find her laundry either a) piled on the floor or b) gone. But when I turned on the laundry room light, that's when I saw her clothes - freshly folded, placed neatly in her basket.

It's raining, colder than it should be in June . . . but my night just got a whole lot better.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:34 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing Solomon's awesome comment (you live up to your handle!).

I've been where you are, anon. I had the same observations and worries. Something that helped me a ton, like Solomon said, was really, really stopping and being conscious of every good thing that came my way, and making note of every little beauty I saw and taking a mental picture of it. Sunlight through brand new leaves on a tree: snap. A old lady helping a toddler walk: snap. The way the clouds move across the sky: snap. Listening to someone practice their trombone: snap.

It's enough to take me out of my own head (which can get pretty poisonous sometimes) and reset my train of thought: THAT helps immensely. I get a little high from walking around in nature. Find something that makes you feel likewise (shows, movies, a good book, pickup basketball, etc.) and do as much of it as you possibly can.

Once you start to feel better, you'll slowly get your compassion back. We're pulling for you!
posted by smirkette at 6:36 PM on June 14, 2011

So speaking as someone who's been entirely emotionally exhausted and cannot yet say that i've gotten out of this sinkhole myself, I will tell you about the few hand holds I've found:
On the small, cold world -- over the past six months I've had to rely on the emotional generosity of a few people more heavily than I'd ever thought possible. They were amazing, and I couldn't have made it through without them. I can't really ever repay them, in kind or otherwise, but the thought of what they've taken on with me has made me want to move heaven and earth to try to pay them back. So, if this is at all analogous to you, even if your generosity is not expanding to the rest of humanity just yet, if it is within a small sphere of worthy individuals, cultivate it like a tiny flame. The world may be small, still, but you should expend what little give you have in it to keep it warm. Little gifts, kind notes, silly things that activate something in both of you other than dread and ugliness. It also dispels some of the sense of crisis, and girds you to contend with part two...

On the larger world --The reason why the world gets so small during personal crises may be because most of the world is simply not able to deal or even care about what you are going through. Your struggles are really not germane to the spanger on the corner, or the bitchy receptionist at the dentist's office. But it's okay to prioritize your responses, and you can either fake it till you make it, as suggested above, or just fuck it, and let them deal with a little ugliness in their lives. Personally, i've felt worse afterwards when I don't fake it, but that's for you to decide.
Real spontaneous generosity to absolute strangers will come again, just not now. We all have limited resources and the opportunity to be kind will present itself over and over again.

Generally, I want to see myself as a kind and generous person, so that even when I have every reason in the world not to be, I still feel better for having at least pretended to be that ideal. Just a more gracious "i'm sorry but no" is okay.

But back to the small world, and the essence of my ideas: The ones closest to you are the key recipients of any and all kindness that you can give, focus on that, and the broader world will come more easily, perhaps.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:59 PM on June 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's something called lovingkindness meditation that you might find interesting.
posted by callmejay at 8:02 PM on June 14, 2011

I am in a hard spot too, and Cold Lurkey's post captured my current thoughts exactly. The best step has been being grateful for the close friends that have been standing by me throughout this long ordeal and, as I've gotten energy I can spare, to help them with what they're dealing with. 

Kindness and caring strike me as funny words right now: unattainable, frivolous, or both. What seems more attainable and valuable is making the effort to find out what really matters to someone and donating time and energy to that cause, being there for them. When you're struggling, as you know, what you need is help -- money; help researching the options; help deciding what to do; real listening, comfort, or reassurance; or having a task taken off of your hands. My closest relationships now are actually closer because we get into one another's struggles with each other more. As I'm coming out of my hardship, I'm getting better at having my first questions be "how is it going? how can I help," (though not good enough), but it doesn't feel like "kindness." It still feels a lot like survival, like "how are we going to get through this? what do you need to get through?"

I try to spend the free energy carefully or as Cold Lurkey said "within a small sphere of worthy individuals, cultivate it like a tiny flame." With energy so limited, it seems like every little bit needs to feed the positive feedback cycle (making a little progress on essential efforts makes your life easier or makes you feel better about yourself, giving you more energy to make more progress). Some things are still too draining and pull energy away from places where I need it more. Interestingly, after close friends, it turned out that some professional activities and charity efforts were worthwhile, because they kept my identity and self-image intact.

Most fleeting joys don't do much for me; they are a momentary lift at best (and a reminder of what's out of reach at worst). Basically they just don't matter. What has been more helpful is to find a few things that do actually matter right now, and find joy in them, like these lettuce and kale seedlings that may provide me with free food. They have a beauty I can ruminate on and lean on. I can happily ponder how to get some free compost for that soil because I love it for its miraculous ability to produce food.

The other thing that really helped me was to focus on my health. For a bit, I was using my spare energy to cook healthy foods and exercise, and that was very worth it. 

Hopefully this helps. I guess my advice is to accept where you are and what you care about now, and to build on that by helping your close friends, do what it takes to preserve your identity as someone who does help people, find beauty in a few meaningful activities, and take better care of yourself. 

I would not expect yourself to care about distant political events. If that is important to yourself, maybe put a related activity on your To Do list and deal with it in whatever way you triage your time and energy so that you meet your sense of responsibility there even now in the same way you persevere and fulfill your other daily tasks. I'm sorry that you're having such a hard time now.
posted by slidell at 11:49 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can definitely relate. It's hard to be kind when you're emotionally exhausted, and when problems and crises feel overwhelming, but I've figured out a way that works for me:

I'm able to be kind because I think of kindness as a way of rebelling against the oppression of negative circumstances. If I become mean and cranky, even though it might be justified, the problems "win". I may not have any control over how things in my life are playing out right now, but at least I can control how I react. When I make the effort (and you're right, it IS an effort, because everything else is sapping your strength) to continue to be a loving and caring person despite my circumstances, I get the satisfaction of thinking of it as a hearty "fuck you" to whoever/whatever is in charge (God, karma, random chance, etc.). Rebellion can be very empowering.

And remember, it's perfectly valid to feel negative emotions about negative things that happen. Am I bitter about some of the things that are happening in my life? You bet your ass I'm bitter. But I'm also kind, and friendly, and productive, and all the other things I need to be in order to function in a semi-healthy way in society. My "fuck you" method isn't a cure for feeling sad/angry/etc. but it helps, and it prevents me from lashing out at my fellow human beings, many of whom are also struggling to make it through the day.
posted by amyms at 12:03 AM on June 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Metta Bhavana meditation. You don't have to be a Buddhist to do it, and it feels like pumping yourself full of oxytocin. It's also extremely good for you. I learned it on a course teaching people to use it to help ward off depression. Also, totally the whoopie pies/macarons to mindfulness' cupcakes, or something. Though I'm not sure either of those are really up-and-coming any more, are they? I don't have my finger on the pulse of the Baked Goods Trendiness Cycle so much any more. You get my meaning, though.
posted by Acheman at 3:00 AM on June 15, 2011

Warm thoughts go out to you, my friend. Personal experience speaking forth, it sounds like existential crisis. One finds themselves jaded, cynical and self-hatred sets in eventually. What you're experiencing is the first stage of burnout, and what a wise person you are to reach out. There are many anti-depressants that can be used for short periods of time. Along with therapy, deep breathing that accompanies yoga is very beneficial. "In with the kindness, out with the sickness." Imagine all your worries placed in a box or closet, one at a time, acknowledging each one respectfully, close the box and duct tape it shut, or close the door and lock it. You may have to do this several times a day, or only once but it really helps. The music of Diane Arkenstone and David Arkenstone is terribly moving and may invoke those compassionate feelings. Once you deal with your stress, your Good luck and namaste.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 7:02 AM on June 15, 2011

Are you actually in NYC? IF you are coming to long island every now and then and going to the beach or walking around different villages might help. NYC is so busy anybody can get dragged down.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:30 AM on June 15, 2011

Two things:

Maybe something to keep in mind: even the smallest kind gestures can have a huge impact, and sometimes a very delayed impact that you and I will never know about. To want to see immediate effects and rewards for things we do is human; but I think it may be mentally healthier for us, in the long run, to think of a kind gesture as "a message in a bottle" that we release, send out with good intentions, and trust that it will find a home.

You sound tired, fed up, and I totally understand this feeling. Sometimes it helps to give yourself a day just to lie in bed and have a good cry, to grieve, and to not think of anything else but release all the pent up bad feelings inside. I may be wrong, but your post makes me think of somebody who is trying to remain strong, to remain an "adult", somebody who is trying to "keep it all together", somebody who is trying to keep the sadness away. The problem is that when you do this, the part of you crying inside doesn't go away. Let him or her cry, through whatever means you want to express it. This is part of the full experience of being human.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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