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"Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden." - Ian MacLaren (?)
I've run across variations of this saying for some time now, online or elsewhere. Sometimes the sentiment (with minor variations) is attributed to Plato or Philo of Alexandria, sometimes to others, or left unattributed, because nobody really seems to know for sure.

The saying may involve burdens or battles or struggles, but an accompanying call for kindness, compassion or mercy toward all is a common thread, and I think that is why it has resonated with so many for so long: we know it to be true because we all struggle, in our own ways, and because so many of us feel compelled to downplay our own distress, to keep that part of ourselves hidden, where nobody can see. We hold it together on the surface, because that's often what's expected (or even required) of us, but underneath, where the rest of the world can't see?

Sometimes that's just one big ol' hot mess.

I think we like this quote in large part because we'd all secretly like others to approach us that way. We're all carrying our own burdens and fighting our own battles---hidden or minimized though they might be---and we'd like others to acknowledge that in some way, even if that acknowledgment is simply deciding to treat us with kindness, without our having to ask, or prove that we need it.

When we assume that others may be struggling with some aspect of their lives, even if we can't see it or don't know all the details, and even if things appear to be fairly normal or even rosy on the surface, we're doing others a favor, it's true. But we're also helping ourselves. Modeling kind behavior (in person or online) can increase our chances of having others treat us with kindness in return---something we may or may not need now, but will probably need at some point.

When we afford others the benefit of the doubt if we see them struggling or lashing out on occasion (or even if we observe longer-term and sometimes problematic patterns of behavior), we help create an environment where others will be more inclined to return the favor, and help lighten someone else's load---maybe even our own!---in the future.

"Kindness first" is not a bad approach to take in general, but when you're dealing with those who are attempting to endure or make significant and sometimes stressful life changes (as with those attempting behavior modification or addiction treatment, as well as those struggling with chronic health issues or difficult interpersonal/family relationships, financial woes, or even loneliness, anxiety or depression), this sort of approach can make all the difference in the world.

This is true even if those who most benefit from the approach are unable to articulate or express gratitude in the moment. Taking a fundamentally kind approach toward others---or at least giving everyone the benefit of the doubt based on the assumption they've got stuff going on that we may know little or nothing about---can go a long way in lightening the load of our family, friends and fellow community members. It can also pave the way for others to return the favor when we need to have someone else help lighten our own. We may not always be able to see others' struggles, and they may not always be able to see ours, but can't hurt any to pretend we can, and act accordingly.

                     
                     

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Originally posted to Vacationland on Mon Mar 12, 2012 at 03:21 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Street Prophets .

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