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Kindness Is My Religion: Three Books About Not Being Mean

Elizabeth Bastos

Staff Writer

Elizabeth Bastos has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and writes at her blog 19th-Century Lady Naturalist. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos

“Kindness is my religion,” the Dalai Lama has said, and how many of us couldn’t use some reminding about how to be open-hearted and present, you know, nice, as in remembering to call our mothers and use our turn signals, keeping society civil? These will help:

On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor is, as they say, a slim volume, densely packed with the history and philosophy of kindness starting with the Greeks and ending with generous advice for us entitled navel gazers. It reminds us, “Individualism is a very recent phenomenon.”




Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, has some rules for us that would have won our grandmothers’ approval: Don’t slouch. Be courageous. Put some effort into your habillements. Smell nice. Smile. When at a party introduce people to each other, and say something like, “So and so likes pottery, I understand that you have a collection of early American yellow ware…” and that will really get the ball rolling. Kindness is code for attentiveness, and generosity.



You need practice. Of course you do. Kindness might be an instinct, but it gets rusty. Gleam it up again with exercises from Loving-Kindness by Sharon Salzberg which are based in the meditation practice of metta. Basically the gist of metta is you think about different people, near, far, friends, frenemies, including yourself, and send them good vibes. You’ll never look at your barista with disaffection again.




Elizabeth Bastos has written for The SmithsonianMcSweeney’s, and The New Yorker Magazine’s Book Bench Blog, and writes at her blog, Goody Bastos. Follow her on Twitter: @elizabethbastos