Living With a Question at the Center of Your Life [Guest Post]
Note from Maia: Last week I shared what 10 people told me when I asked them: “What’s the most important question you’ve ever asked yourself? How did [does] that question change your life?”
One of those responses was from Lisa Wilson. I shortened her answer to include in last week’s post, but loved the full version of what she wrote so much that I’m featuring it here as part of our series on transformative questions. Next week we’ll conclude this series with a post on “How to Ask Liberating Questions.”
Living With a Question at the Center of Your Life
by Lisa Wilson
Many years ago I heard the phrase, “Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right.” To some this may seem obvious, but I was raised in a world where success was praised. I debated with my father for hours just for the sake of debate – strengthening those logic muscles. In school I quickly learned that if I could find a way to be right, I “won.”
I had no choice but to pay attention to the tremors that this phrase of kindness vs. correctness sent through me. But the question that arose after months of letting it roll through my mind was the question that made the difference in my life practice.
“When is it better to be kind than to be right?”
It was the parent question that birthed baby question after baby question. (If it is only sometimes better, when are the times it is better to be right? What is being “right”? Is being kind just being a door mat? Being right can make a lawyer millions of dollars – what does being kind get me? What if I’m proven wrong – do I try to be kind or right?)
Like a gentle constant breeze, this question and the resulting ones continue to blow against the forms of my beliefs and shape my life experiences and practices.
I started in a place where logic was king. If you had the opportunity to be right, kindness was the second place trophy. You were right, then nice about being right. The only exception might be when I was the one being proven wrong….in which case, it seemed more appropriate for the other person to just be kind. (yeah.)
After sitting with it for years, I now find myself in a place where kindness moves among the tiny details of my life. It seems to influence every decision – or at least to want to.
The logic part of me still grumpily calls out those times of exception — when being “right” seems…well, right! For example, sticking up for someone else who is being harmed or stopping activities that are damaging the earth. But even in all of this sticky right-ness, I still find kindness.
In mundane terms, I may be “right” in preventing my children from hitting one another with the unicorn-on-a-stick (Such is my life.) But kindness must infuse the intention and the action.
If I act just to be in the right I separate myself and place myself on a throne (I have the better answer, the right one, thus I am above you). I disconnect from the “other” (in truth, disconnecting from myself).
If I act through kindness – even if expressing my views of what is right – I remain connected to the other person. I see the person with whom I am interacting (my child, a co-worker, a friend or stranger) as an equally divine and human being – full of the same human foibles and divine possibilities. Through kindness I recognize this.
Admittedly, I still don’t know the answer to any of the questions – including the original one, When is it better to be kind than to be right?
But not knowing the answer does not keep me from living the question.
My practice right now is infusing kindness through whatever I may perceive as right or wrong. As the Dalai Lama said, “My religion is kindness”.
In practical terms this is a really hard religion to follow. Have you ever tried to be kind when your child asks you for the 9th time why watching one more kid’s show isn’t going to happen or when someone is tailgating you so closely on the highway that you could give them a dental exam if they opened their clenched teeth?
As you allow thoughts of those moments to flood you mind, I will also ask: Have you experienced the returning ripples of kindness? The relieved smile of a stranger who wasn’t expecting your kind act, the twinkle in the eyes of the child who feels your love, the gushing words of thanks of an acquaintance who connected to the kind act or words you put into the world.
I ask you to feel all of this in your body – the sensations that you get when you are right and the sensations you get when you are kind. I ask us both to continue to explore the questions that arise and not run from them because they seem inappropriate or uncomfortable.
And I ask you, as if your very life depended on the urgency of your examination, When is it better for you to be kind and when is it better for you to be right?
Bio: Lisa Wilson is the creator of Life Unity. She describes herself as an “awareness artist” who uses the tools of yoga, art, story-telling, humor, and other creative ventures to enhance awareness of experiences that go beyond words. She and her family live in Southern Indiana.
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