December 31, 2018

A year of kindness

If there is one thing that has become clear over the past decade, and that has come into startling clarity this past year, is that we are being wholly and completely unkind to our planet.

The special report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in October 2018, as well as the Fourth National Climate Assessment issued by the U.S. Global Change Research Program a month after that, make a few things clear: climate change is real, its impacts are devastating, and it is our unkindness to the natural world that is at the root of this climate crisis.

In a year when I have been so focused on kindness to others, and kindness to myself, I am horrified that I have forgotten the importance of being kind to the earth.

As I have for years, I have woken up every day in 2018 with the mantra of be kind” as my first thought in the morning. Additionally, as part of my daily nighttime journaling, I added the question, how did I exercise kindness?” to my list of evening reflections. Kindness has, as it always has been, a primary motivator for me this past year.

This past afternoon, I looked back upon all my evening reflections from the last 365 days, and was heartened by the responses to my kindness question. I had made an effort, a concerted and conscious effort, to be kind every single day; more importantly, I was also grateful for the kindness that others had shown me.

I shared this passage by Anne Lamott from Hallelujah Anyway when I was writing about kindness in January, and I was reminded of it today:

Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.

Reading about the kindness I tried to show others, and that others had so amply shown me, made me feel warm and generous, and made it very clear that be kind” was the right mantra for an often difficult 2018 gone by.

There was one clear omission from my journal entries, however: there was no indication of how I had been kind to myself. My reflections on kindness had focused on my interactions with other people, but had forgotten about how I had interacted with myself. What was my relationship with my own self this year, and how was that relationship guided by kindness?

Being kind to myself was, after all, one of the driving impetuses for me to choose kindness as my word of the year. In my blog post from January, I emphasized the importance of this inward grace:

If I can be compassionate, forgiving, and generous with others, I must be the same to myself. If I strive to recognize, acknowledge, and provide a sense of belonging to those around me, I must also include myself into this space of safety and love.

I have made strides to be kinder to myself—my new physical, mental, and emotional health routines are a manifestation of this—but I have not been explicitly caring: I am still quick to anger at myself, quick to chide myself for not being perfect, or good enough. I have not treated myself the way I strive to treat others.

I begin every year with kindness as my driving motivation, but I was explicit about its importance in 2018. If, then, I was not as kind as possible to myself, and had even ignored the idea of kindness to the planet in my actions this past year, was this year a failure?

Clearly, it was not: while it was a difficult one, this year was also marked by immense joys, accomplishment, and deep self-reflection. It would be a disservice to call 2018 a failed year, because it was, like those before it, a year where I learned, grew, loved and was loved, and made a small impact on those around me.

So perhaps this is the ultimate kindness that I extend to myself today, on this last day of the year: to allow myself off the hook. Sure, I could have been kinder to the planet, and sure, I have much work to do to be kinder to myself, but I can forgive myself for that this year and just work harder in the next.

As I did in January, today I will play the words of Leah Reich in my head repeatedly:

Everyone fumbles. Everyone has biases. Everyone has perspectives they can change. Even the best, smartest, kindest among us have terrible, even ignorant opinions. But that’s how to be human. At least, that’s how to be the kind of human I want to be: complicated, messy, open to change, willing to learn, ready to do better.

This is my kindness to myself as 2018 comes to a close: to know that I am not perfect, that I have lots of work to do, that I am complicated and messy and I fumble—but that I am willing to learn and ready to do better. This is a fitting end to a year focused on kindness: a realization that it’s okay to be human and that in fact my humanity is what makes me who I am.

As you evaluate your days gone by, I hope you extend to yourself this same kindness, too. See you in the new year, friends.