There you sit, stuck in traffic breathing all sorts of noxious fumes, worried about getting to the daycare before 6 so you won’t have to pay the late pick-up charge. Slowly, you inch ever closer to your exit. When the car next to you turns on its blinker you say to yourself, “Okay, I'll be nice. I'm going to practice some kindness today, “as you let the gap in front of you widen. The driver waves and changes lanes, moving forward. You smile, happy with yourself for allowing them ahead of you and think, "What a good person I am. I have created some good karma today." Then, out of nowhere, another car darts into the ever-closing space in front of you cutting you off abruptly. If they looked in the rear view mirror they would see you cussing them saying, “You could at least say thanks, you so and so!"
There went all your goodness and self-congratulation, right out the window. Why? Where did all your loving-kindness go? Perhaps you weren't really practicing kindness as much as you were feeding your ego. This time of year is the busiest time for charitable giving. Are people just more loving or is there another reason? Perhaps they are emptying their closet and extra money, just to get the tax benefits. Or is it a worse reason: to have people applaud their charity and praise their generosity?
Pema Chödron uses this slogan in her meditation training to illustrate the true nature of kindness. “We can begin to open our hearts to others when we have no hope of getting anything back; we just do it for its own sake.” Pema points out that kindness should be a work done solely from an altruistic point of view. It’s not really kindness or love if we are expecting something in return. How many times do you tell someone, “I love you” then wait, expecting them to reply? Is that love or just an expectation of reassurance in yourself?
Love and kindness cannot truly exist when you are focused on yourself. There is no “What’s in it for me?” in love, kindness, and charity. So in this season of giving perhaps we should focus a little more on true kindness and love, not stand around waiting on applause for our simple acts of kindness.