Life is a classroom and the only subject is love

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 8, 2003

Many of you have shared with me recently your own thoughts on the ripple effect of singular acts of kindness, the topic of last week's column. Here are just two of the letters I've received.

The first is from stained glass artist Gwenyth Mills, known most often simply as "feather." This past spring the car she was driving was forced off the road by another vehicle, leaving her with multiple injuries and seriously impacting on her artistic career. She wrote:

I WAS INTERESTED to read your column on effecting world transformation through small acts of kindness, and I agree totally. Having recently suffered trauma in my own life, I'm in a good position to appreciate how small kindnesses can change one's state of mind, producing gratitude, where before there was pain or frustration or a feeling of isolation.

I like to think of it more as a "ripple effect." Like dropping a pebble in a pool. Someone does something kind for me, I feel softened and warm and grateful. So I am inspired to do something kind for someone in my life who is in pain. Maybe I do a kind thing for two or three people. They in turn each do a kind thing for two or three people who cross their paths who are in crisis, and those people pass on the gift. In this way, one person starting the process with a single act can start a ripple that spreads out and becomes a thousand small kindnesses.

Maybe one of the people who receive a kindness is someone in a position of particular power or influence. Maybe, while still feeling the softness generated by a kind gesture, this person participates in a meeting or decision-making process of global significance, and his softened attitude influences the outcome of the process, bringing more compassion to political actions.

The good produced by small kindnesses is never lost.

When I was in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas in 1987, I was searching for large profound truths. Earth-shattering revelations. What I discovered was that Buddhism, in its purest sense, is exemplified by small daily kindnesses. I became ill with dysentery while at the monastery, and the ancient Rinpoche Lama who was teaching us, noticed that I was not at one of the gatherings and sent someone to look for me. Upon hearing I was sick, he sent his own personal thermos full of sweet cardamom tea to me. I didn't understand very much of the esoteric teachings of that particular branch of mystical Buddhism, but I understood very clearly the value of kindness on a personal level. That experience has affected the way I interact with others. The Rinpoche's kindness to me is still reverberating through the universe. Still spreading out.

—Gwenyth "feather" Mills, Cochrane

THE SECOND letter is from a dental hygienist who usually leaves me speechless while cleaning my teeth:

LOVE THE ARTICLES regarding acts of kindness and the "Butterfly Effect." Of course we must continue to acknowledge and appreciate all the goodness and beauty in the world! That is not to disregard the less fortunate aspects of our world, but rather to remind ourselves that life is meant to be more than that.

I think no parameters can be placed on kindness and goodness – no one act is any greater or smaller than another. We can all contribute in whatever capacity we are able to. Our missions are different, although part of a whole.

I think, if we begin to focus only on the negative aspects of our world, and disregard the choices to contribute, no matter how "small," that we are in real trouble! We are here on earth in much the same capacity as when we attend a learning institute, and as such, the lessons are abundant in all areas.

—Denise Kokaram, Calgary

THANK YOU, feather and Denise, for your thoughts on life as a place of learning. I too have long believed that life is a classroom, and there's only one subject in the curriculum: love.

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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