Remember Don Juan? Somewhere back in my Castaneda days, I remember that Yaqui sage saying something to the effect of “You can make yourself miserable or happy. The amount of effort is the same.” Lately, I’m thinking that this applies to the choice to be kind or cruel as well. And if that’s true, why don’t more of us simply be nicer to each other?
This came up the other day when a colleague at school wrote me an e-mail concerned about the 3-year old who cries when she comes to my Preschool Singing session. Turns out that this tender little being noticed that I scared her teacher when I said “Boo!” in the Halloween song a month ago and in general seemed sensitive to loud noises—and loud singing. So following her teacher’s suggestion, I took five minutes to go out on the yard and introduce myself to her alongside the teacher I scared. I asked her what her favorite song was and promised we’d sing it next time—very softly. And I showed how her teacher and I were good friends. She seemed happy enough about our exchange and went skipping off to play.
So yesterday, I winked at her when she came in to Singing Time and she looked happy, no tears threatening to come forth. And then I noticed that her wise teachers had given her headphones to muffle the sound. She stayed happy all Singing Time, didn’t disturb the class with loud crying, didn’t need a teacher to take her out and soothe her. Problem solved. And looking back at it, how much effort did that take? Not much. A short e-mail, five minutes to step out on the yard and little wink and an idea about headphones.
So I’m thinking about a little recipe as follows:
1) Measure out two cups of caring about every child.
2) Mix with three portions of noticing the problem.
3) Stir in 10 ounces of fluid thinking about what might be going on.
4) Whisk until smooth and pour into the Plan A pan to bake.
5) Remove from the oven, let cool and taste. If it comes out inedible, try again.
See? It’s simple. Once you get the hang of it, you can spend the entire day baking cookies of kindness in the classroom, the workplace or the home. Of course, it took me some four decades to consistently get better results, so I’m not saying it’s easy. But the right intention and constant effort really does make a difference in everyone’s quality of life.
Today, for example. It didn’t take much effort to find myself next to the 5th grader walking down the hall who had just done a great job in play rehearsal and lavish him with sincere complements, noting how far he had come from his work in last year’s play. Easy to laugh with the 8th graders as they rehearsed their wacky characters in St. George and the Dragon. Easy to negotiate with the disappointed 4th grade drummer who wanted to play in that piece instead of this one and find a third place where he could show his skills. And so on.
It is the job of the adult to praise and bless children, not superficially or inauthentically, but sincerely by giving them worthy work and challenges and noting their efforts and their breakthroughs. And when they get stuck or feel hurt or feel like hurting others, take the time to talk and listen, to find out how you can help. They feel the joy of blessing and you feel the pleasure of giving a blessing. Or you can go the other route and yell at them and blame them and punish them and flood their bodies and yours with the toxic chemicals of threat and violence. But what’s the point? If the effort is the same, why choose that route?
Really, it’s simple to care and be kind. Sure, it hurts and it’s scary to be so vulnerable, but it hurts more to armor your heart and it’s scarier to live in anger. Why not follow the simple recipe above and see what happens?
Sometimes it’s as simple as wearing headphones while singing.