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The Desire to Help: Why Kindness Matters

Research shows we are wired to help others. In behavioral studies, both babies and chimpanzees will assist others without prompting, even if doing so involves some kind of difficulty. The babies in the studies were too young to act out of responsibility, yet no reward was necessary. Both seemed to be motivated simply by the desire to alleviate the suffering of others.

Though as we grow older, we become less likely to share, not because our first impulse changes over the years, but because we choose not to act on it. We still desire to help others, but we feel inconvenienced and choose not to. Or we worry what others might think of us, perhaps second-guessing our motives. These feelings can so heavily color our desire to help that when we do go out of our way to share with others, the act is devoid of joyfulness.

Kabbalists teach that helping others, showing kindness and compassion, and sharing selflessly leads to spiritual transformation, aside from being the right thing to do. So we give when we can. Whether it’s convenient or not, we often smile and pretend we are happy to do it. What we often don’t realize is that the spirit with which we share is just as important as the act of sharing. If we aren’t sharing with an open heart we are diminishing the Light channeled into the world through that act.

Students of Kabbalah often mistake sharing and kindness as the same thing. In truth, they are vastly different. It is entirely possible to give to others while lacking a basic desire to share with them. Kindness is measured by the openness with which you share, if you do it happily and eagerly, without thinking about the obstacles you may have to overcome to do so. This is one of the goals of our spiritual work.

If we simply measure our spiritual progress by whether we are sharing more or giving more, our barometer is off, because those things can happen without any internal change. Kabbalists teach that the purpose of life is to transform our Desire to Receive into the Desire to Share. True sharing is when we don’t hesitate to run an errand for an ill friend, or assist a co-worker who has more work than he can handle. We do it joyfully, because we are excited by the opportunity to help others. We don’t even see it as spiritual work, but as a blessing. Attitude makes all the difference.

Your attitude defines the kindness with which you give. What is real kindness? “It means that by nature, when the choice comes between clenching your fist or opening your hand, your natural desire is to open,” says Michael Berg. “The Zohar says there is nothing worse than somebody who does not desire to keep opening his hand to give, but instead has a clenched hand; it says there are no greater aspects of a person’s personality and life that will diminish and hinder any Light and lasting blessings from coming into his life than if he is clenched in his desire to give.”

Be the kind of person who doesn’t stop after saying, “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Be someone who finds a way to help and then does it without hesitation and with a joyful heart. Try to see opportunities to share as blessings. “Ultimately,” says Michael Berg, “we need to come to the point where out of all the moments in our day when we had the choice between clenching and opening, we opened—our heart, our hand, our mind.” Eventually, the act of sharing will become so natural that you won’t feel obligated at all.

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