Meeting the closed heart of the world with kindness

If we’re expecting to be thanked for every act of kindness, then we’re going to be waiting for a very long time.

Because that’s not how generosity works.

The goal is to express our appreciation, not our expectation. No matter how badly we need and want to be singled out and congratulated on our benevolence.

Kindness is just one of those things that becomes its own reward. We do it because it creates connection and generates respect. We do it because it heals our heart every time we express it. We do it because people need recognition that we’re all in this together and doing the best we can.

But we also do it because it literally rewires our brain.

Weng’s widely publicized study on compassion training found that daily acts of kindness actually changed the biology of its subjects, activating brain regions associated with empathy and understanding. This led researchers to conclude that kindness is a muscle that people can intentionally develop.

Think about what keeps you hostage from your own kindness:

Afraid that people will suspect ulterior motives?

Scared that you won’t be recognized for your generosity?

Nervous that people will mistake your generosity for not being fair?

Wondering if you will be judged as creepy or weird?

Concerned that your kindness will be construed as weakness?

Look, there are as many excuses for not being kind as there are people to have them. But if we have any intention of ratcheting up this mess of a blue marble, then it’s time we let go of those stories. It’s time to practice putting in more than you take out.

To practice surprising people with your neverending flow of kindness. And to practice feeling zero obligation to be measured, equal and congratulated in your behavior.

Because kindness is about loving impulses, not calculated actions.

And the closed heart of the world could sure use it right about now. 

What story keeps you hostage from your own kindness?

Relief from petty torment is on its way

The richness of life is often overlooked by giving our attention to the wrong things.

Petty vanities, minor deceits, minuscule inconveniences, trivial irritations, trifling nuisances, imagined obligations, unnecessary activities, pointless distractions, we clutter our existence with all of this psychic debris.

Both consciously and unconsciously.

And that’s why we never seem to notice the extraordinary beauty and opportunity and joy that lies right before us.

Not because we’re blind, it’s because we’re busy.

We get sucked into the undertow of our expanding pile of nonessentials.

The problem here is, our sense of proportion is running on an outdated operating system. Whatever chickenshit thing of the moment has our attention, we convince ourselves that we don’t have more important things to do. That we don’t have higher priority demands on our time.

But it’s just a story we’ve decided to tell ourselves. We’re acting from a place of avoiding pain, not provoking pleasure.

Begley did fascinating research on this issue in her book about compulsions. She writes:

Compulsions come from a need so desperate, burning and tortured that it makes us feel like a vessel filling with steam, saturating us with a hot urgency that demands relief. But while there is relief, there is little joy.

Have you ever felt that way while checking your phone furiously?

When it comes to mastering the art of proportion, entrepreneurs are often masters. As business owners, they understand key economic concepts like leverage, return on investment, labor intensity, opportunity cost, and the law of diminishing returns.

That’s why they don’t tend to waste time on trivialities. They have enough on their plates and in their minds. There’s no room left for additional psychic debris. It’s simply not a prudent use of their time and talents.

There are a million other pressing issues that need their attention that are far more important and will add more value to their business.

If only more of us thought this way. The collective anxiety level of the country would plummet if people trained themselves to reprioritize their attention with greater mindfulness.

How many of your demands could be reduced if you put some energy into eliminating the distractions that now fritter away your attention?

Is this worth a multiple of the energy put into it?

Leveraging means using something to our maximum advantage.

Increasing the rate of return of an investment.

Exponentially improving our odds with minimal effort and friction.

If that sounds cold and clinical and corporate, you’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use the phenomenon of leverage to dramatically improve our lives.

The secret most of us miss is, our highest leverage comes from anticipating rather than reacting. Otherwise, by the time we take action, it will be too late.

You gotta get while the getting’s good.

The question we have to ask is:

If we could only do one thing on our list all day long, which item would add the most value to ourselves and others?

Because in that case, it’s kind of a no brainer. The results of that activity will be always worth a multiple of the energy put into it.

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of delegating, downsizing or deleting every underleveraged item their list. For most of us, most of our days contain boring and pointless tasks that simply need to be done. Which is perfectly fine.

But that’s where the anticipation comes into play. If we have a crystal clear understanding of our own worthiness, of our own time value of money, and of our own unique ability to contribute to ours and other people’s lives, then we will always ready to optimize on a moment’s notice.

And not in a stressful way, either.

We can train ourselves to transition from low leverage to high leverage activities fluidly and seamlessly.

Reading and writing, for example, are two of my highest leverage activities. Any time spent doing those two things will almost always send ripples that lap onto the shore of my consciousness. The process is joyful, creative, relaxing, inspiring and engaging for me in the moment, and the product is useful for others in the long term.

That’s why standing in lines and waiting for trains doesn’t bother me much.

It’s simply an invitation to use leverage to improve my life. Bemoaning the imperfections of public transportation isn’t useful for me or anyone standing near me. But leveraging my unexpected commute time to dig into my new philosophy book or codify my thoughts and feelings, that puts me in a position of power and value.

Anticipation, not reaction.

That’s how use our time and energy to our maximum advantage.

By looking for the multiples.

What high leverage activity can you do to exploit your new reality?

What does your keychain say about you?

Here’s an unscientific but fascinating personality test.

How many keys are on your keychain? How many of them do you actually use? And how many of those keys are total mysteries to you?

Maybe your chain stays lean and clean. Just the basics. House, car, office, mailbox.

Or maybe you’re someone who saves old keys from a former jobs and relationships that you keep around for sentimental value.

Then there’s people who carry dozens of keys because of their many work, family and community obligations.

Or the boy scouts whose lanyard keychains also include bottle openers, retail reward cards, mini flashlights, prayer beads, safety whistles, jump drives, fishing knives, warthog tusks and emergency glass breaking tools.

And don’t forget the occasional sovereign individuals whose simple and unencumbered lives doesn’t even require them to carry any keys.

Finally, there are the people whose chains are full of keys, but they have zero idea what those keys are intended to unlock, and they’re afraid to toss them out of a fear that they might come in handy one day.

Which bucket best describes you?

Naturally, there is no right or wrong answer to this test. There is no right or wrong way to do keys. Although it has been clinically proven that excessive weight on a key chain can damage your vehicle’s ignition system.

Point being, on the list of small things that can tell you a lot about a person in a short amount of time, looking at someone’s keychain is a useful window into their minds and a glimpse into their soul.

It possesses talismanic value.

If you’re recruiting candidates for an open position at your company, it might be an interesting interview question. If you’re running a team building exercise with your employees, it might be a fun way to get to know each other better.

Let people’s keys hold the keys. 

Which items most echoes your personal historical context?

The spirit is willing, the flesh is tweaked

We don’t fear change, we fear loss.

That’s why we say that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

Because it’s far easier to continue with the status quo than face something new. It’s far easier to convince ourselves that the unknown is far worse than our current situation.

Consider the overworked and underpaid employee whose job makes him miserable day after day.

At least they guy knows the extent of the pain. Why surrender the familiar misery for the frightening uncertainty? Why risk leaving significant infrastructure and support behind to move towards a dubious future?

And yet, despite our control freak tendencies, despite our fear responses to help preserve the self, humans are actually designed to flourish in the harsh soil of extreme uncertainty.

Why else would there be thirty million working age people who are starting or running new businesses? Apparently, uncertainty isn’t a barrier to entry. These courageous people willingly picked a profession where uncertainty is the norm. The thrill of not knowing what is going to happen next drives them.

Besides, what do we know anyway? Humans are shitty predictors of pretty much everything.

Sometimes leaping into the unknown reveals painful secrets about the world and ourselves that have been hidden from us, and sometimes it reveals profound joys we simply haven’t met yet.

Sometimes taking the plunge causes us to become unemployed, depressed and lonely, or sometimes it opens our mind up to a new field of potential and we will quickly find our energy returning.

Whatever we decide, it’s going to require some work either way, it’s going to contain uncertainty either way, and it’s going to require some loss either way.

We are about as free from opportunity cost as we are free from gravity.

Confront your internal panic of not knowing. Allow a little uncertainty and see how it’s unfolding.

Reach into the darkness, unsure of what will be received, take a breath, and tell yourself that you’re okay. 

What if you had to be comfortable not knowing exactly where life was going?

We wish you good luck on your search for love

The value proposition of online dating websites is, they take the lottery out of love.

In fact, many of them work so well, they guarantee it.

Match famously states that if you don’t find someone special within six months, they’ll give you an additional six months free. Terms and conditions apply, of course, but the offering is legitimate.

It certainly convinced me to sign up for the service during my single years. And it worked.

What’s interesting is, you can read all the legal fine print of their offering, but the company never actually specifies the most important element.

What does it mean to find someone special? Isn’t that a subjective concept? And are there not as many definitions of someone special as there are people to find them?

Kind of makes you wonder if the legal department has ever contested that guarantee for one of its users.

Imagine some entry level customer service agent at their call center writing the following email:

We regret to inform you that you are not eligible to receive your guarantee extension, as standing outside of your date’s bedroom window for three hours in the rain with a white van idling in the street, does not qualify as someone special. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions, and we wish you good luck on your search for love.

What’s your definition? How do you define those two critical words?

Might be something to think about before you start stalking strangers on the internet.

Personally, here are from my own list.

Someone special is someone who makes you start saying we.

Someone who accepts everything broken in you.

Someone who sees your originality and honors it.

Someone who helps you avoid problems before they arise.

Someone who gives you sound and unfiltered feedback.

Someone who brings a sense of calm and tempering influence.

Someone who longs to hear precisely what you have to express.

Someone who feels more in love with you than impressed by you.

Not everyone will check every single box, but you know some of these things going in, the search will be much more fruitful.

How did you know that you had found somebody special?

Feeling joyful and alive in the giving moment

Generosity has historically been at odds with marketing.

Firstly, from an economic perspective. Anytime we give something away for free, whether it’s an idea, a product or a service, scarcity ceases to exist. The balance of power shifts. Value perception plummets, since people believe they get what they pay for.

And because everybody wants things that other people can’t get, they no longer feel special. By giving things away for free, we’ve robbed them of that privilege.

The second challenge of generosity is, while it’s easy to scale, it’s harder to track. Because when we are promiscuous with our work, taking real time to give things away without the obligation of remuneration, we’re less likely to build a strong attribution model.

Looking back at my twenty years as a book publisher, there is no possibly way for me to calculate the number of copies in circulation, since the majority of my books were given away for free, downloaded anonymously or straight up pirated.

Which is awesome for a freelancer, but try telling that to the marketing director of your organization. When your team cavalierly errs on the side of abundance and ubiquity, giving everything away and hoping for a bigger payoff down the road, measuring that on some spreadsheet, is an exercise in futility.

That would be like eating a slice of pie and trying to calculate how much the apples cost. You simply can’t do it. Not enough information.

Anderson summarizes it perfectly in his groundbreaking book about free:

People often don’t care as much about things they don’t pay for, and as a result they don’t think as much about how they consume them. Free encourages gluttony, hoarding, thoughtless consumption, waste, guilt, and greed. We take stuff because it’s there, not necessarily because we want it. Charging a price, even a very low price, can encourage much more responsible behavior.

Point being, there is no right or wrong answer to the question of giving ourselves away. It’s not a black or white issue. It’s something that exists on a spectrum.

Some people will surprise the world with their neverending flow of generosity, and some people will build scarcity into their work and keep score from the very start.

Both types of people will win, both types of people will lose.

But the question each of us has to ask ourselves is this:

Is feeling joyful and alive in the giving moment worth it? Or are the generous among us fools and easily taken advantage of?

Guess we will never know until we try. 

Are you willing to become generous beyond measure, just to see what happens?

Directing your attention in a more conscious manner

A common piece of criticism people give me about wearing a nametag every day is, well you’re just doing it for attention.

And my short answer is, you’re absolutely right. That is exactly my reason for doing it. The attention is great.

But my experiment is not quite as narcissistic as it may initially seem. Because while someone wears a name tag to get attention, they also wear it to give attention. That’s the second half of the equation that most people miss.

Human interaction is a reciprocal system. It’s a highly sensitive exchange of energy. Newton famously discovered that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and the physics of intimacy are no exception to his law.

The most common example is when a waitress wears a nametag so customers can flag her down at the restaurant. Of course she does that to get attention, but she also does that to give attention.

Because once that silence is broken, once that dance begins, now she can come over to the table and deliver a service. And now the attention is back on the customer.

Social psychologists call this reciprocity, which is social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action. And in a world where attention is our most scarce commodity, there is nothing shameful about becoming an active participant in that dance.

It’s among the great joys of being alive. To see and be seen, to feel substantial enough to register on each other’s societal radar screens, since did we decide that was a sin of the flesh and spirit?

Tillich, in his groundbreaking book about the courage to be, once said that the section of reality in which one participates was the community to which one belongs.

Perhaps the practice of directing our attention in a more conscious manner is precisely what makes us human beings in the first place.

Which social dance are you unashamed of participating in?

That which happens when we come together

Buber saw the path to divinity through human contact.

He speculated that a person could not approach the divine by reaching beyond the human:

God is not in me and not in you, god is simply what is between us. God is the collective involuntary nervous system of human beings. The electricity that surges amid physical bodies. Anytime one person relates to another, and relates also to that relationship, both authentically and humanly, they relate thereby to god.

Mathew’s gospel popularized it with the oft quoted scripture, for where two or more are gathered in my name, the divine is among them.

The beautiful part about this theory is, it has nothing to do with organized religion. It’s not a monument to ancestral superstition, it’s not an intellectual ruin from a bygone era, it’s not a magic act people use to justify horrifying acts, it’s not a theological insurance scam for the neurologically challenged, and it’s not satisfying and smiley illusion for a wonderful eternity coming.

It’s just us. People. God is that which happens when we come together.

When we are most aware of relating to another being, we are most in touch with holiness.

Because each of us carry within us a divine spark, and when others witness it, our lives suddenly have dignity, meaning and hope.

It’s like the quantum physicists have said, particles cease to exist until they are observed.

Before there is a self, there is an other.

Only in the continuous encounter with other persons do we become and remain a person.

What if god was equally approachable through all religions, and through no religion?

Every decision we make is a brick in our foundation

Most of us are uncomfortable making decisions when we don’t have a lot of information.

The idea of moving forward with very few data points is a terrifying prospect. Better to do additional research and get feedback and run a few more tests and then we can think about the possibility of maybe taking action.

But the thing we forget is, we learn by making all decisions, even bad ones.

Because decisions are progress. Each one we make is a brick in our foundation, even if its edges have a few cracks and chips.

But as my favorite economist once said, if you wait until you have a fully informed opinion, then it will be too late.

Falsani’s inspiring book about the intersection of popular culture and spirituality describes her favorite film protagonist in a similar way:

A man is paralyzed by the choices he wasn’t able to make. And the paralysis led to the calcification of his heart. Afraid to make a decision, take a chance and reach out for the love he deserves, he passes through life like a sleepwalker. But waiting for clear confirmation that a decision is exactly right is a recipe for mediocrity and almost a guarantee of eventual failure.

Decision making, then, is not only a business practice, it’s a spiritual practice as well.

Think about it.

It involves having faith in our own judgment. It involves having faith that we made our decision for a reason. And it involves having faith that if we make someone on our team a little upset with our initiative, they will still forgive us because of the forward momentum our decision created for the project.

As woo woo as that sounds, it really does a measurable impact on company growth. The daily practice of making small decisions, in real time, that are good enough for now, even with a dearth of information, affects the bottom line.

Gilt is a perfect case study. The founder of the online shopping group is often asked why his famous sales always take place at noon every day. To which he replies:

Wwell, we had to pick a time, so we just picked it. We literally spent ten minutes on that decision. And now there are hundreds of thousands of people who orient their schedules around our sales.

This is the ultimate definition of empowerment.

The ability to make decisions that have a tangible influence on our work.

It sure beats researching ourselves into a corner. 

Do you need more information, or do you need to decide?

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