“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
––The 14th Dalai Lama
World Kindness Day is on 13 November. This important day, dedicated to honouring kindness, began in Japan in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement, an alliance of NGOs with a primary focus on kindness. World Kindness Day celebrates good deeds, their positive power, and the common thread of kindness that binds us all.
Let’s repeat that: kindness binds us all.
Dictionaries define kindness in various ways: ‘having or showing benevolence (a desire to do good for others)’; ‘consideration for, and service to, others’; and ‘being thoughtful about other people’s feelings.’
These definitions are perfectly adequate, however they do lack a bit of colour and meaning. The most genuine examples of kindness can be found in young people. They teach adults how to be the best version of kindness, every single day. Children express kindness with sincerity, and simple words such as: being caring and helpful; smile at people; don’t be mean or rude; tell someone they look nice; listen to others; notice people around you.
Tragically, sometimes the kindest and most thoughtful young people suffer from eating disorders. They are empathetic, nurturers, listeners, intuitive carers, sensitive souls, compassionate and loyal friends. But these kind, kind people are often unkind to themselves. There is evidence that people with eating disorders have less self-compassion, than those without disordered eating. This is often called the empathy paradox.
World Kindness Day gives us a chance to promote kindness in all forms….to ourselves with self-compassion; to our loved ones especially if they have an eating disorder; and to others.
One beautiful cultural example of kindness is the Buddhist practice of ‘loving-kindness’ – or metta as it’s known in Pali, a language spoken in northern India. The original name of this practice is metta bhavana. The metta means love (non-romantic), friendliness, or kindness: hence ‘loving-kindness’ for short. And bhavana means development or cultivation. The commonest form of the practice is in five meditation stages:
- Feel metta for yourself.
Repeat gently to yourself:
may I be happy
may I be healthy
may I be safe, peaceful, and free of suffering.
2. Metta for a good friend.
Bring them to mind as vividly as possible and think of their good qualities. Encourage this connection by repeating quietly to yourself, “may they be well; may they be happy.”
3. Metta for others
Think of someone you neither like nor dislike. You feel neutral about them. Reflect on their humanity and include them in your feelings of metta.
4. Metta for someone you dislike
Or are having difficulty with. Try not to get caught up in feelings of anger towards them but think of them positively, and send your metta to them as well.
5. Overall metta
In the final stage think of all four people together — yourself, the friend, the neutral, and the disliked person.
Then extend your metta further, to everyone around you, in your community, country, and throughout the world. Have a feeling of loving-kindness spreading from your heart to everyone.
Finally, gradually relax out of meditation and bring the practice to an end.
The crucial part of loving-kindness and kindness in general is the principle that you must love yourself before you can love other people. Repeating kind phrases toward yourself can foster a sense of self-compassion. Emotions that our loved ones with eating disorders are often lacking and must slowly relearn or cultivate.
Kindness is something carers can model through self-practice. We all need self-compassion – carers and those with eating disorders and self-harming behaviours – to assist in self-soothing and finding relief from distress.
Practising kindness transforms us into a more radiant version of ourselves.
“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage or bravery or generosity or anything else.”