Kindness, or being kind, is not a genetic trait that stays the same from birth to death. It is a skill, and like all other skills, it is something we can get better at by practicing it. It does however require conscious practice, attention, and care to cultivate.
I have found one of the best and easiest ways to practice being kind is to do this while driving. That’s right, practice kindness in traffic. One of the places where egos thrive, everyone only thinks of themselves and everyone is always in a rush. A place where being unkind and selfish is the norm. What better place to practice your kindness-muscle?
The way you do this is by making the conscious choice of being radically kind to everyone you encounter in traffic. Yes…everyone! This includes:
That jerk who just cut you off.
The guy who just started honking 0.2 seconds after the light changed.
The elderly woman who won’t drive faster than half the speed limit.
And anyone else who would normally annoy the hell out of you. That’s the whole point. It is not to not get annoyed. You will definitely get annoyed or angry or frustrated. These emotions are a reaction, a reflex you cannot control. The exercise is to recognize the annoyance coming in and then crushing it with kindness. Do this often enough and you will start to see the emotion coming less often and when it still does, less intense and with a significantly shorter duration.
Now you might ask:
“Why would I do these people a favor!? They deserve my anger right? It was them who did something wrong!”
The thing we all need to realize though is that it’s not a matter of blame, it’s a matter of responsibility. Taking responsibility for your own emotions and reactions does not mean you “take the blame” for the situation. In fact, who is to blame, is rather irrelevant. It will be your day that’s ruined, your mood. Not theirs.
The Buddha said it best:
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Simply said: you sitting angrily in your car thinking about “the injustice that just took place”, will have no effect whatsoever on the other person, and a massive effect on your own state of mind. If you take control of your emotions and stop trying to change the situation that has already happened (and therefore can’t be changed no matter how upset you get), you will become calmer and less stressed.
How can we use this in daily life?
There are two ways you can practice kindness in these kind of situations.
The first is to give each of these people a backstory, in your head, that illicits your understanding and compassion.
That jerk who just cut me off. He might have just heard his wife got into an accident and had to be taken to the hospital. Obviously, he’s in a rush!
The guy who just started honking 0.2 seconds after the light changed. He has that big presentation at work and everything just went wrong this morning making him stressed and late. I know that feeling too!
The elderly woman who won’t drive faster than half the speed limit. Isn’t it great to be that age and still have the guts to be driving yourself around!
How can you be mad at these people, when they all have such relatable reasons to behave the way they do?
Why does it matter?
The second way to do it is the simpler one. However, simple doesn’t always mean easy. This is what I call “raising your shoulders and exhaling”. It’s where you literally raise your shoulders, breathe out a big sigh and say to yourself “why does it matter?”. This is a rhetorical question, however. Don’t try to answer it, because the ego will come up with all sorts of justifications as to why it really does matter.
So the guy wasn’t nice to me on the roundabout…why does it matter? The lady is driving slightly below the speed limit in front of me. Why does it actually matter? Nothing is the answer. It means nothing. It’s not something done to you. Not something they do with you in mind and in the grand scheme of things it does nothing to you except hurt your precious, touchy ego. Just shrugging it off and breathing it out can instantly take away the annoyance.
Traffic situations are of course just one of many themes in which practicing kindness can be used. See it as a metaphor we all experienced, but do look at what other situations in your life cause you stress because of other people’s behavior and your emotional reaction to it.
By practicing kindness you’re not only being kind to the other person, but you’re also being kind to yourself.