Confucius taught that benevolence is the highest virtue, ranking above righteousness, honesty, loyalty, etiquette, and love for family. Without a kind disposition, the inclination of good will, and the sincere desire to be of service, the other virtues will not come easily or authentically.

We are complex people living in complex times. How we respond to life is in direct relationship to our personal circumstances, which are often in flux. Our actions are also influenced by the tenor of our times, which seems to be dominated by fear, hostility, and disorder. Such uncertainty tends to make us reactionary, proprietary, and accusatory. Wouldn’t we be better served by patience, empathy, and curiosity?

Feelings of gratitude and good will are magnified during the holidays, as is the stress caused by family gatherings, winter travel, loneliness, and the pressure of a ticking clock as new year begins and we contemplate past resolutions that went unfulfilled.

Be kind to yourself…for the more compassionate you are to yourself, the more inclined you will be to offer understanding to others. And be kind to others, because with each smile, good deed, or unexpressed criticism you will expand your capacity to treat yourself with gentle appreciation. When someone is rude, appears ignorant, or fails to meet expectations, notice your reaction and the impact it has on how you feel in the moment–for that attitude will flavor the rest of your day.

How might things be different if you were to offer them the benefit of the doubt? Maybe they are not a horrible person but a decent person having a horrible day. And when you screw up and your inner monologue is dominated with thoughts like “you idiot” or “why can’t you do better,” stop, take a breath, and re-frame your thoughts.

Remember: mistakes can be opportunities, difficult people can be teachers, and benevolence can be the key to enjoying life’s other virtues.



Reflection Questions:

  • Where do you naturally fall on the spectrum of benevolence?
  • What image, person (real or fictional) or action comes to mind when you think about benevolence?
  • When have you been the recipient of benevolence?
  • Are the decisions you are making, moving you towards or away from benevolence?
  • In what ways (in action or attitude) will you be more benevolent to yourself?

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