Since August, I have been working out at a fitness center three times a week. I lift and haul, flex and stretch, pump and press. Over time, the weights I use have gotten heavier, the number of reps has increased and I feel my muscles strengthen, my capacity and endurance expand.
I think I need another kind of workout, too. Maybe a kindness gym where there are exercises for growing amiability, patience and civility. Some of my exercises at the kindness gym would simulate being on the phone with corporate customer service [not]. I could do reps, for example, on the kind of experience I had this week. On May 7, I ordered credit cards for staff joining the New England Region on July 1. Having experienced errors and delays in the process last year, I thought I’d get a head start this time. Pauline took my order and said I could expect the cards within 5 to 7 business days.
After 14 business days and no cards, I called again. This time, Audrey answered the phone and told me the cards had been sent. However, as we had not received them, she said she would cancel those and overnight a new set to us. She was so casual and ready with the remedy that I found it hard to believe not receiving the cards was chance. Either she was lying about the cards being sent or the loss of mailed cards is a common occurrence for this bank and something they should look into.
The next day, no cards. Five to five, I called again and got Georgette on the line. I could say that I “explained” the situation to Georgette but that word is far too neutral. I need a word that combines scolding and righteous incredulity. I did not hold Georgette responsible and told her so. However, she did have to suffer my indignation as I gave the details and whined into the phone: “Can you explain to me what is going on at your end? I just don’t understand why this is hard.”
At the kindness gym, I would have to deal with my triggers around bureaucratic illogic of this kind. I would grow resistance to honking and hollering about others’ bad driving. I would do routines in which I wrestle with my resentments and indignations about what family members, co-workers and complete strangers are or are not doing.
In “A Million Boring Little Things,” Richard Beck writes that no one ever tells young Christians that “Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient and more loving.”
That grind is true for any spiritual path. Mostly, love is not a heroic choice. It’s the daily practice of tending our compulsions and triggers so that any encounter has life-honoring and sacred potential.