Radical Kindness: Learned as a firefighter; working on using it in life.
She was standing between her mom and dad.Her mom’s voice was strained as she spoke.
“She’s been so much better. And then this morning she was gone again, lost, I mean… “
Then she began to weep.
Being kind is the best response to a world of pain and fear.
Our early response to pain and suffering is to be repelled. It’s not just blood or trauma or the smell of illness, it’s the pain that emanates from the suffering. It frightens us. It makes us feel vulnerable. In the case of Jane, I remember my first response was being shocked: She looked just like my daughters. Same ponytail, same glasses.Next, because we are still in the beginning of our education, we ask the sufferer to be stoic — because we’re not. We ask them to not display their suffering to us. “Suck it up” we think, and sometimes we blurt it out. Don’t wail, don’t cry, don’t suffer in front of me because I can’t handle it.
But if we stick with it, after a few years we become attenuated. This is the natural state of firefighters. We can’t work effectively if we are undone by suffering.
A slippery fact: We eventually get used to everything.
Next, we can choose to stay here, attenuated, not moved by pain and suffering and simply do our job as best we can. Or we can open ourselves up and realize that being constantly exposed to suffering and the pain of others is transformative. That is where radical kindness comes from.
Radical Kindness: the impulse to be caring, empathetic and helpful above all else.
Walking out of a gym with another firefighter, we noticed a drunk passed out between cars, surrounded by vomit, urine and beer cans. My friend didn’t ignore him, laugh or chastise him. He simply bent down, woke the guy up and said, “Hey bud, probably shouldn’t sleep here.” Then he helped him up.
Simple kindness. I’ve seen firefighters act this way for decades. I’ve watched how they act with drunks or with the homeless wanderers. I’ve watched countless times as firefighters comfort victims long after the emergency is over and trucks have left.
On any given call, I’m surrounded by firefighters who are radically kind. It’s how we are expected to be. We may never be the best firefighters, or the hotshot EMTs, but we can work on being kind and maybe that’s how we’ll make a true difference.