Weak Kindness & The Doormat Phenomenon: Balance Kindness with Strength

Kindness Can Be a Weakness

'The Art of Being Kind' by Stefan Einhorn (ISBN 0749940565) I’m currently reading Swedish oncologist Stefan Einhorn‘s The Art of Being Kind (2006.) Arguing that being a good person is the key to a happier and fulfilled life, Einhorn stresses (watch his TED talk) the need to distinguish ‘true’ kindness from ‘false’ kindness.

Einhorn describes three forms of false kindness:

  • Manipulative kindness where deceitful kindness masquerades as goodness. This superficial kindness is driven by some ulterior motive—to shrewdly obtain something, rather than to be genuinely helpful.
  • Stupid kindness that lacks appropriateness—trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, for instance.
  • Weak kindness is thinking that being kind sometimes means yielding and being a doormat to others’ demands.

Weak Kindness Will Make You a Doormat

The doormat phenomenon is the outcome of weak kindness where a doormat bends over backwards to desperately satisfy others, often resorting to do whatever it takes to try to make others happy, no matter how badly the others treat him/her. In the name of kindness, the doormat allows others to walk over him/her due to lack of strength, fear of conflict, or fear of rejection.

The doormat phenomenon is perpetuated primarily by an inability to say “no” effectively. Here are the consequences of being too gullible, too empathetic, and too timid.

  • Doormats neglect their own self-interests.
  • Doormats often resort to passive aggression and/or resentment. Eventually, they find themselves silently annoyed by others.
  • Doormats don’t enjoy spending time in a social context, since they resent the people they assist.
  • Doormats often face more demands than they can handle. Hence, being fully conscious of how they’re taken advantage of and unable of standing up for themselves, they suffer from stress and depression.

Don’t Be Duped by your Own Kindness

Weak Kindness & The Doormat Phenomenon: Balance Kindness with StrengthThe key to leading a wise and purposeful life is to balance kindness with strength. To be wise and kind,

  • Be profusely kind and obliging but never weak. Don’t give up your power to another person. Don’t become a people-pleaser. Don’t put everyone else before yourself.
  • Be vigilant for nefarious people and their hidden motives. Be alert and aware of the many negative ploys and manipulations you could confront.
  • Be assertive and stand up for yourself. Don’t say “yes” when you really want to say “no”. Don’t be so desperate to please others as to ignore your own priorities. Keep your own interests at the forefront of your mind.
  • Be on the lookout for win-win opportunities to be kind and giving. Don’t always prioritize other people’s needs above your own; seek opportunities to help out where you can expect some reciprocity. Successful people tend to ask for what they want.

The Chinese use a “flower and sword metaphor” to illustrate the need to balance kindness with strength. For the most part, present the world a flower—a symbol of kindness and compassion. However, when people try to take advantage of your kindness, that is to say when they try to crush the flower, wield the sword—a sign of protection and strength. The sword exists to protect the flower.

Idea for Impact: Wise kindness entails judiciously subjugating some of your self-interests sometimes in aid of others’ welfares, while still having the courage to stand up your values when necessary. Be kind when you can, and tough when you must. Remember, a wise person’s own happiness matters as much to him or her as the happiness of others—no more and no less.

A Grateful Heart is a Happy Heart / Book Summary of “The Gratitude Diaries” by Janice Kaplan

At one dismal New Year’s Eve party, veteran author and journalist Janice Kaplan heard a woman gripe and grumble. While reflecting on this experience, Kaplan realized that she herself had much to be grateful for, but frequently wasn’t. She resolved to “spend the coming year seeing the sunshine instead of the clouds.”

That self-declaration was the genesis of an inspiring yearlong experiment in living gratefully and concluding that being thankful really does offer a conduit to happiness.

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan (ISBN 1101984147) Kaplan recounts her transformation “from grumpy to grateful” in her book The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life (2015.)

Throughout the year, Kaplan maintained a gratitude journal and wrote down three things that she was thankful for each day. She also decided to “find one area to focus on each month—whether husband, family, friends, or work—and become my own social scientist. I wanted to see what happened when I developed an attitude of gratitude.”

Here are a few highlights from The Gratitude Diaries:

  • Kaplan started her yearlong gratitude experiment by appraising her marriage and recognized all over again what a good man her husband was. “When you expect everything, it’s hard to be grateful for anything. So I decided that now was the time to put aside impossible expectations and start appreciating [my] husband.” After she expressed appreciation to her startled husband, “the warm feelings between us [grew] stronger than ever…. Gratitude was making us both a lot happier.”
  • Discussing the importance of not overlooking one’s blessings, Kaplan writes, “We get used to something—whether a husband, a house, or a shiny new car—and then forget why it seemed so special in the first place.”
  • One month, Kaplan instituted a “no-complaining zone.” Writing about the need to emphasize life’s positives over its negatives, Kaplan mentions, “If you can change something that’s making you unhappy, go ahead and change it. But if it’s done, gone, or inevitable, what greater gift can you give yourself than gratitude for whatever life did bring?”
  • Kaplan discusses the story of her heartfelt and earnest reconciliation with her sister. This meaningful experience was the beginning a “new friendship” and had both women “appreciating the good in the moment rather than fussing about the past.”
  • Kaplan concludes, “gratitude lodged deeper and deeper into my heart and soul…. Gratitude affected how I looked at every event that happened. Being positive and looking for the good had become second nature—and that made me much happier.” And, “by living gratefully, I’d had the happiest twelve months I could remember.”

'The Gratitude Diaries' by Janice Kaplan

Recommended: Speed Read. Janice Kaplan’s The Gratitude Diaries confirms that gratitude truly is an attitude—how you feel has less to do with events that occur in your life and more to do with your attitudes. Kaplan’s experiment substantiates that keeping a gratitude journal boosts your sense of wellbeing. With interviews on gratefulness with psychologists, friends, and other thankful people, The Gratitude Diaries encourages you to pause, take stock of your blessings, and be grateful for what you have in life in order to make life more pleasant, gratifying, and peaceful.

Don’t Be Too Helpful at Work

Agreeableness Can Go Too Far

Consider the case of Sherry, a discontented claims adjustor at an insurance firm. She is a star employee and an excellent team player. In a bid to be seen as obliging, Sherry always agrees to do everything she is asked to do by her supervisors and her colleagues. She ends up taking on a lot of extra work.

Sherry gets much praise for helping out as much as she can. However, she feels constantly overworked. This excessive dedication has left her with neither the time nor the energy for leisure or family. Her discontent materializes from the fact that her inability to say “no” is actually holding her back from some of her primary priorities.

Don't Be Too Helpful at Work

Too Much Congeniality Can Be Counterproductive

We live in an era in which self-interest is contemptible. People who aren’t generous and altruistic are branded as uncaring and greedy—even evil. At work, one mark of a high-performing employee is the ability to bring discretionary effort at work. This implies willingly dedicating energy and attention beyond the basic requirements of the role. Employees who are agreeable and helpful are much favored to those who are not so obliging.

Nonetheless, as a whole, there are dangers of being too helpful in a workplace. Employees like Sherry frequently find themselves overloaded with tasks that aren’t really part of their responsibility, tasks that are difficult to execute well, and tasks that that others don’t want to undertake because they are uninteresting or low-status in the organization. These supplementary tasks may stop obliging employees from doing their own work to the expected standard. Eventually, they get branded with humdrum work and may even be overlooked for higher-status work assignments or for promotion to senior roles.

If you’re one of those employees who is accommodating or strives to be seen as such, curtail your impulse to say “yes” to whatever people ask you to do. Don’t change abruptly from being a friendly, accommodating employee into an obstinate, unhelpful person.

Be judicious in undertaking extra work if it is only desirable in light of your priorities and the personal image you want to sustain. If the prospective task conflicts with your priorities, you are within your rights to say “no” (see my previous article on nice ways to do so.)

Idea for Impact: There is a Limit to the Results Being Nice Will Get You

While it is virtuous to think of others first at both work and home, devoting all of your time for others can stand in the way of caring for yourself. Your work-life balance can suffer.

Addressing your own needs first is not only incredibly beneficial for your well-being, but also vital to your ability to care for others. Be prudent. Stand up for yourself. Be mindful of your priorities. Be attentive to your own needs. Practice saying “no.” Learn to be assertive.

Confucius on Dealing with People

Confucius on Dealing with People The teachings of Confucius (551 BCE–479 BCE) have dominated Chinese traditions and philosophy for centuries. He taught followers to lead a virtuous and righteous life, love others, honor one’s parents, lead by example, and treat others as one would like to be treated:

  • Confucius on keeping one’s wits about one: “The superior man may let others lie to him but not make a fool of him. The superior man encourages what is beautiful in men; the inferior man, what is unbeautiful.”
  • Confucius on the spirit of humanity: “What makes a place beautiful is the humanity that dwells there. He who is able to choose and does not settle among humane people is not wise.” Moreover, “the superior man does not neglect his neighbors” and “the superior man honors the worthy and tolerates all men.”
  • Confucius on showing consideration for people of all ages and from all walks of life: “Let me respect the tranquility of the ages; let me be loyal to my friends; let me love children tenderly.”
  • Confucius on managing parents: “Serve them in life.” It is not enough to feed one’s parents “if respect is absent, wherein should we differ from the beasts?” If parents seem to be mistaken, we may respectfully argue and protest, but we must obey them.
  • Confucius on managing friendships: “Have no friend who is not your equal.” Also, friends should “loyally admonish one another and tactfully set one another right.” Friends should be dependable: “even if the season be cold, we know that pines and cypresses are evergreen.”
  • Confucius on the right conduct toward authority-figures: “A good official serves his prince in the right way; if that is impossible, he withdraws.” Further, a good official “will not circumvent the prince but oppose him openly” and “will not be chary of good advice.” Moreover, “if the country is on the right path, he may speak and act boldly; if it is not on the right path, he may act boldly, but he will speak cautiously.”
  • Confucius on the right conduct toward subordinates: “The superior man gives his servants no ground for complaint that he makes insufficient use of them, but (unlike the inferior man) he does not expect perfection; he takes men’s abilities into account and does not dismiss old and trusted servants without grave cause.”

'From The Great Philosophers, Volume I' by Karl Jaspers (ISBN 0156835800) Reference: German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl JaspersThe Great Philosophers (trans. Ralph Manheim.) I recommend The Great Philosophers for its delightful introductions to the philosophies of four great minds from the “East” (i.e. east of the Danube river:) Jesus, Socrates, Confucius, and the Buddha.

The Source of All Happiness: A Spirit of Generosity

Dalai Lama with Matthieu Ricard

Thinking of Others is the Source of All Happiness

'Little Book of Inner Peace' by The Dalai Lama (ISBN 1571746099) In the Little Book of Inner Peace, the Dalai Lama writes,

In this world, all qualities spring from preferring the well-being of others to our own, whereas frustrations, confusion, and pain result from selfish attitudes. By adopting an altruistic outlook and by treating others in the way they deserve, our own happiness is assured as a byproduct. We should realize that self-centeredness is the source of all suffering, and that thinking of others is the source of all happiness.

Interconnectedness

At a 2006 TED conference, Robert Thurman gave a pithy discourse called “We Can Be Buddhas” on the Buddhist concepts of interconnectedness, empathy, and compassion. Thurman is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, an ordained Buddhist monk, founder of the Tibet House, and father of actress Uma Thurman.

Where compassion comes is where you surprisingly discover you lose yourself in some way: through art, through meditation, through understanding, through knowledge actually, knowing that you have no such boundary, knowing your interconnectedness with other beings. You can experience yourself as the other beings when you see through the delusion of being separated from them. When you do that, you’re forced to feel what they feel.

When you’re no longer locked in yourself … you let your mind spread out, and empathize, and enhance the basic human ability of empathizing, and realizing that you are the other being, somehow by that opening, you can see the deeper nature of life.

The Dalai Lama says that when you give birth in your mind to the idea of compassion, it’s because you realize that you, yourself and your pains and pleasures are finally too small a theater for your intelligence.

Being compassionate is a selfish thing to do.

Doing something loving for a person in your life can give you an emotional high. It helps you focus outside of yourself and on the needs of others. Paradoxically enough, this outward focus and compassionate behavior benefit you. Reiterating this concept, Thurman states:

The way of helping those who are suffering badly on the physical plane or on other planes is having a good time, doing it by having a good time … the key to compassion is that it is more fun. It should be done by fun. Generosity is more fun. That’s the key.

Compassion means to feel the feelings of others, and the human being actually is compassion.

When you stop focusing on the self-centered situation … (and) you decide, “Well, I’m sick of myself. I’m going to think of how other people can be happy. I’m going to get up in the morning and think, what can I do for even one other person, even a dog, my dog, my cat, my pet, my butterfly?” And the first person who gets happy when you do that, you don’t do anything for anybody else, but you get happier, you yourself, because your whole perception broadens and you suddenly see the whole world and all of the people in it. And you realize that this—being with these people—is Nirvana.

Why Doing Good Is Selfish

Consider the following legend about Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) from J. E. Gallaher’s Best Lincoln Stories (1898.)

The Fable of Abraham Lincoln and the Pigs

The Fable of Abraham Lincoln and the Pigs

Once Lincoln was traveling in a mud-wagon coach along a swampy, rural area. His fellow passenger was his good friend and US Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, who later lost his life in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff at the onset of the American Civil War.

While they were conversing in the mud-wagon coach, Lincoln remarked to Baker that in doing good and evil, all people are motivated by selfishness. Just as Baker challenged Lincoln’s assertion, their coach crossed a rickety bridge over a slough (a large swampy marsh.)

Abruptly, Lincoln and Baker glimpsed a mother pig making a terrible squeal because her piglets were stuck in the swamp, couldn’t get out, and were in danger of drowning.

Abraham Lincoln As their coach started to head away, Lincoln yelled, “Driver, can’t you stop just a moment?” The driver replied, “If the other fellow don’t object.”

With Baker’s approval, Lincoln jumped out of the wagon, ran to the slough, lifted the piglets one by one out of the swamp, and carried them to the dry bank of the swamp.

When Lincoln returned to the coach, Baker remarked, “Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in this little episode?”

Lincoln replied, “Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I would have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?”

Psychological Egoism

Being moved by the plight of others—even the suffering of animals (or sentient beings to use Buddhist terminology) as in the aforementioned legend of Lincoln and the piglets—is considered a selfish deed per modern philosophy’s theory of ‘psychological egoism’.

Egoism has its roots in the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE,) who argued that the human mind is driven by the need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Egoism contends that deep down all our actions are motivated by what we perceive to be in our own self-interest. For example, if Tom saves Mark from drowning in a river, egoism contends that Tom’s seemingly altruistic behavior is actually motivated by his own self-interest to avoid potential social censure for not helping Mark or to be regarded a hero within his social circle.

Idea for Impact: Be Selfish, Be Generous

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

The great Indian philosopher Aurobindo wrote in Towards the Light, “The secret of joy is self-giving. If any part in you is without joy, it means that it has not given itself, it wants to keep itself for itself.”

The Dalai Lama once advised, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Per the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness, altruistic generosity encourages us to perceive others more positively. When we discover the suffering of others, we realize that those individuals could just as easily have been us. Intuitively, we contemplate “I feel their pain; I can’t let that happen” and are driven to helping others.

When we do something for others and lose ourselves in the service of others, not only do we feel closer to them, but also they feel closer to us. By focusing on giving rather than receiving and on contributing rather than consuming, our generosity can engender an outward orientation toward the world, shifting our focus away from ourselves.

As our whole perception broadens, we realize that the biggest beneficiary of our generosity is often ourselves: at the outset, we are filled with joy with the recognition that someone else is happier because of us.

Idea for Impact: If you want to feel good, help someone else.

Kindness: A Debt You Can Only Pass On

Kindness - Paying it Forward

Paying It Forward

Life is a journey enriched by the people you share it with.

Over the course of this journey, you’ve encountered many people who have worked hard and gone beyond expectations to support you.

They’ve been a great source of pleasure, celebrated your triumphs, and stood by you in times of distress.

From time to time, they’ve even sacrificed their interests to do you a favor or two.

How, then, will you return their generosity and affection?

Sometimes, life will have moved on and you can’t pay them back, even if you want to.

The only way to return people’s favors is through your own social roles—as a parent, spouse, child, brother, sister, friend, caregiver, facilitator, supervisor, teacher, mentor, manager, leader, volunteer, benefactor, or philanthropist.

Life assigns you these roles to help you honor your debt to the people who have touched you. That is a debt that you can never fully pay back, but must simply pass on.

Why Do We Have Children - Paying it Forward

“Why Do We Have Children?”

The following essay drives home the importance of paying it forward.

One day after years of trying, a father finally succeeded in getting his daughter to comprehend the love he felt for her. The young woman had just given birth. Naturally the baby became the center of her world. “Now you understand how much I love you”, her father said to her.

Except on rare occasions, a parent’s love is absolute. Children come first and get the best. Savings, housing, friendship and leisure time—everything revolves around the child. What is the cause for this strong attachment? Why do we happily sacrifice our pleasures, our money, sometimes even our lives? Why do we have children?

Many explanations have been given: we procreate to perpetuate the species, out of duty, for normal and religious believes, to reassure ourselves, out of carelessness or passion. But the focus, the center from which everything starts to make sense, is the child himself. We make babies because we need them: we need them because they need us.

We give our children everything: life, support, protection, tenderness. But in giving our all to them, we become the source of everything. This bond that makes us be sons to our fathers and fathers to our sons is indestructible. Nothing can undo the fact that we are born by this woman, our mother, just as nothing can undo the fact that we are parents of this girl, our daughter. A sage Jew, Rambam, once suggested to his son the objective necessity of this parental chain. “You are not only my son”, he told him. “You are also my father’s grandson”.

We have children to honor our debt to our parents. A debt that can never be paid, only transferred. Whatever the meaning and the price may be, one must marvel at the inexhaustible abundance of this love. It was the first and remains the basis of all the loves to come.

[Source: From an issue of Reader’s Digest India circa 1989. Author unknown.]

No Duty is More Pressing than that of Gratitude: My Regret of Missing the Chance to Thank Prof. Sathya

I’d like to relate an incident that reiterated the value of human relationships and genuine outreach.

Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University and Indian Institute of Science

Prof. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan was a Fulbright scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, where I worked as a research assistant in the year 1999. “Sathya,” as he was fondly known, was a visiting professor from Lehigh University, Bethlehem PA.

Upon our acquaintance, I had observed that Sathya seemed stressed out from his work and had struggled to get his computer programs to run. I had offered to help him with computer programming and research on manufacturing processes. Our interaction had quickly evolved into a bond of mentorship. He was not particularly joyful, but was always genial and inquisitive. Over coffee breaks, we had many an interesting conversation about the relevance of Eastern Philosophy in the modern world.

At that time, I was applying for graduate school in the United States. Sathya had advised me on the schools to which I should apply based on my specific interests, the nuances of the application process, and the many components of the applications. On a particular day when my applications were due to be dispatched, he had me revise my personal essay repeatedly until he felt it was succinct enough to reflect my academic ideas and interests. When I thanked Sathya, he asked me to thank him only after receiving an admission and to keep him updated on my applications.

Three months later in March 2000, one late night, I received a call from a prestigious school. The school had admitted me to its graduate program with a 100% tuition waiver and a generous stipend for research in my area of choice, a precursor to 3D Printing. I was extremely delighted, but did not call Sathya because it was late at night.

The next morning, I learnt that Sathya had died the previous night of sudden heart attack. When I visited his home that afternoon, Sathya’s wife informed me that he had complained of uneasiness after a heated debate with a fellow-researcher on the progress of their research work. Sathya’s death came as a shock to me since he was only 47 years old and had a six-year old son.

I profusely regret not having called Sathya on that fateful night to express my gratitude for his mentorship of my application process. I am given to wonder if my success could have cheered him after his tense conversation with the research colleague—I’ll never know.

I never thanked Sathya in person, but I dedicated my master’s thesis to his memory.

Thesis Dedication: To the memory of my mentor and a great friend, Dr. Guruswamy Sathyanarayanan, Lehigh University

Call to Action: Practice Gratitude

There’s plenty of anecdotal and empirical evidence that practicing gratitude can considerably increase our sense of social well-being and happiness, yet we fail to acknowledge our blessings and thank people who’ve made a difference in our lives.

“The learned have prescribed penance for the murderer of a pious man, a drunkard, a thief or for one who has violated a solemn vow. But there is no pardon for the ungrateful,” asserts the Panchatantra, a collection of animal fables from ancient India.

Dear readers, there is no excuse for not conveying your feelings to your loved ones today. There is no excuse for not expressing your gratitude and appreciation today. There is no excuse for not taking a few minutes of your time to check-in on somebody who has influenced your life with his or her gift of kindness.

NOW is the time to appreciate the people who have helped you. This is your opportunity to do it—RIGHT NOW, while there is time.