With a hula hoop, you have everything inside the hoop, everything outside, and the hoop itself. Kindness has the same three. Inner kindness, outer kindness, and shared kindness.
Outer kindness is everything outside the hula hoop. Outer kindness is what we do for others without their participation. It’s the golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is everything from buying the groceries for the person behind you at the supermarket to building hospitals and schools in third world countries to writing thank you notes. The possibilities are, literally, unlimited.
Inner kindness is everything inside the circle. This is the kindness inside us. This is where restrain your orangutan comes in. It is our kindness towards ourselves and also how we think about others.
And, third, there is shared kindness, represented by the circle itself. We know that it is the hoop itself that is the point of active engagement, hence, shared. It’s done with others, alongside them together.
I’ll tell you about a situation that happened to me recently that identifies all three kindnesses.
At Starbucks one morning, I saw a woman walking toward the door with a purse on her left arm, briefcase in her left hand, and balanced in her right hand was a four-cup tray with five venti and grande drinks. My inside kindness made me want to offer help. My outside kindness opened the door for her. She thanked me as she walked past. So far, I had inwardly felt kind and outwardly acted kind but we hadn’t done anything together. My car was parked a couple spots past her’s so I was following her for a car’s length. I saw her fumble with her key, arms full, drinks precarious and, without approaching her, not wanting to be creepy, I said, can I help you with that?
I was offering an act of shared kindness. It went beyond opening the door for her. It would require both of us to be engaged.I would need to either hold her drinks, her keys, her briefcase, or her purse. I would be standing next to her as she opened the door to her car with no one else around.
She hesitated. You could see her thinking. She said, no thanks, I’ve got it. I walked on.
There is a big step up from an outside act of kindness to shared kindness. Outside kindness required nothing from her, there is no commitment on the part of the receiver. Outside kindness is a one-way act. Shared is a two-way interaction, an engagement. That Starbucks woman was happy to receive an act of outward kindness but was not ready to commit to a shared moment. I was a stranger. It was more than she was comfortable with. She had seen my outside act of kindness but she didn’t know my inside kindness.