Those words seem mutually exclusive at times. For example, let us take one of the hottest topics on everyone’s minds at this time: the 2016 election. We look at some of the candidates, and it may appear that they confirm the mutual exclusivity of kind and powerful – that the two often don’t go hand in hand in our current society.
Being powerful can be described in many ways. But here, I do not make reference to the power defined by money, status or profession. It is the power you and I have to positively and kindly influence people, by being role models, by sharing our strengths, our humanity and our achievements; yet we also have the power to destroy with our actions and inactions, with our ambivalence and lack of commitment to others and to ourselves.
Then, there is the matter of being kind. Kind people may be perceived as people who are “weak” or have no real backbone. In my opinion, this is far from the truth. True weakness comes from either being too powerful or wicked such that we become detached or lack the strength to say no or enough.
Still, most ask the questions, "can kind people prosper in this day and age?" "do we need to be unkind in order to become successful?" Perhaps it may be wiser not to get overly hung up on popular conceptions. I believe that to be kind or unkind, powerful or weak is just a matter of perception. The only constant, objectively fair words are I am. “I am” is the most important affirmation you and I can make; it points to a personal choice we make every moment of our lives. So what would your choice be? What do you want to become? What do you want to be known for? Do you want to be known as a kind person? Do you want to be known as a powerful and assertive person? Do you want to be known by both? Of course, we want both! It is about finding a balance between being kind, though not weak, and powerful, without becoming removed or disconnected.
I am perceived as a kind person by others, so I’m told; and I truly hope that is how people feel when they are around me. Thus, most are shocked to hear that I’m a lawyer. The surprised, almost mystified, looks are generally followed up with something like “You must be tough to be a lawyer, yet you seem so kind and gentle. How do you do it?” Sure, I can be tough, but in my mind, being in any profession doesn’t prevent us from being ourselves. It is the opposite; it only enhances it. Being dedicated to a craft is superbly fulfilling and, as such, enriches our personal qualities, improving our own world.
To learn how to keep the fine balance between kindness and power is not an easy task. I would not fathom myself to have all the answers, but I believe that I have found what works for me, and while always learning and working to improve myself, I’d like to share with you the basic pillars that have helped me keep the structure of that fragile environment:
You cannot give what you don’t know you possess; you cannot set healthy boundaries and standards if you don’t know what these are for you. I recommend taking time far away from the constant noise and apparent connection of modern life to get to know you. This will foster the most important relationship you will ever have in your lifetime: the relationship with self. Practicing yoga, meditation, painting, reading (from an actual hard-covered book, in my case), contemplating nature or simply walking long distances (I do walk 40-blocks from Grand Central Station when the weather is nice and I need to reconnect with myself, trace plans, or simply to enjoy my own company) are some of the activities I do in order to maintain that connection with myself.
For me, awareness can be achieved through the active decision to be present. We do worry a lot about the past, about the future, and rightfully so. However, these worries sometimes do not even come to pass. In order to be aware of our situation and create empathy and connections with other people, we must be present. We have a tendency to go through the motions without stopping, breathing, and truly considering the questions: “Am I acting or reacting?” “Am I being fair or unfair?” “Am I being kind or a doormat?” “Am I being assertive or just mean?” Awareness makes you understand that everybody has his or her own reality and truth, and we must accept it as such; awareness trains your brain to let go of the little things and look at the bigger picture.
When you are aware of your own boundaries and aware of what you can give and how far you can go in any given situation, you will also know when to say no. You will let go of anything that could adversely impact your own well-being. This awareness allows you to stop a situation that does not embrace the principles you know to be right for you and that may negatively impact the balance you are striving for. Kind does not mean that you must say “yes” to everything and everyone all the time. Being powerful and assertive does not mean you must say “no” all the time. We do have a choice.
We actively make daily choices. “What to wear?” “what to say?” “what time to leave the house?” “should I exercise today?” (Well, the latter is actually a question I seldom have to ask myself), “should I do meal prep tonight?” etc. We should also actively make a choice about being kind and assertive every day, as opposed to being a hostile, mean or spineless person. Again, awareness will let you know if you are acting or reacting to a situation. Take a moment, pause and make your choice; it is within your power.
Don’t get overly fixated on any one thing; situations and circumstances have a way of changing without previous notice. Be malleable, but do not bend to the point of breaking. Flexibility, coupled with awareness and your own understanding of self, will allow you to understand that certain things are not permanent and you always should make room for change. Change should be welcomed, it truly helps us grow into the person we are meant to be.
What could be more powerful than something that touches every one person, something that will change their day, that will change their lives? Kindness is, in itself, powerful!