Kindness What Is Your Motivation?

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Salt columnist Andy Hix this week discusses kindness, and tells us why unconditional kindness feels that much better.

The other day my friend was filming something on his phone in portrait, and it annoyed me.

“You know it looks crap when you film it like that? You end up with blank space either side when you upload it to YouTube.” I said.

“Yes, you’ve told me that before.” He said.

I knew I’d told him that before, and that was why I was annoyed this time. He hadn’t taken my advice. How dare he!

“Why don’t you do it then?” I asked, curtly.

“I think it looks fine like this.”

I was actually seething at this point. How arrogant of him to think he knows better than me. I’ve made hundreds of films.

“Fine. Do it however you want.” I said, wishing that he would do it how I want.

I thought that what he was doing was WRONG! I felt resentful. At the same time I knew that this really wasn’t a big deal. It doesn’t actually matter that much what this video looks like on YouTube. So why am I feeling like this? Why have I been so triggered by such a small thing?

Great opportunity to practise mindfulness, I thought! I started by investigating the physiological sensations in my body. I noticed my jaw and belly were tense. I noticed by body felt heavy whereas before it had felt light. I noticed I felt ill will towards him.

I told myself that it’s OK to feel this. There’s no wrong way to feel.

I questioned why I was feeling like this. I’d tried to be helpful by offering him advice. There’s nothing wrong with that. So what’s gone wrong?

I then remembered that I’ve got a pattern of looking to feel self-worth through feeling helpful to other people. I told myself that I didn’t need other people’s approval to feel that. My self-worth needs to come from within me.

Next I realised that the fact that I was annoyed meant that, subconsciously, I’d only offered him advice on the condition that he took it. Really, I wasn’t trying to do something for him, I was trying to do something for me: feel self-worth by feeling helpful.

I realised that if I really wanted to be kind, I should offer help unconditionally. With unconditional kindness the motivation is purely to be of assistance to the other person and you have no attachment to the outcome of that offer: whether it be accepted, rejected or ignored.

When I realised that it was not my friend who needed to do anything differently, it was me, all the tension and resentment evaporated, almost instantly. I felt grateful that he’d helped to learn this valuable lesson!

It’s interesting to investigate when you think you’re being kind, whether there’s actually an ulterior motive: are you making your colleague a cup of tea so that they make you one back? So that they like you more? Because you feel guilty that they made it the last three times? Or are you making it purely because you want to give and have no expectation of getting anything back.

There’s no right or wrong, it’s just that unconditional kindness tends to feel much better on both sides of the action. Try it and see.

Andy Hix is director of zen at work, a London-based mindfulness consultancy. Get in touch with Andy for a free taster session at www.zenatwork.co.uk.

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Photo Credit: JWCopas from flickr

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