Discovering Kindness In The Storm


(Photo: Guillermo.D)

Sand storms bring out interesting conversation.

That’s what I was thinking as fine dust hit every inch of my face, flooding my sunglasses and burning my eyes. I pulled a white bandana up over my face, and then — as suddenly as it started — it ended.

The three people seated around me came back into view, I took a sip of water, and we continued where we left off. Just another late morning at Burning Man.

I’ve since returned to San Francisco from the middle of the Nevada desert, but I brought a few things back with me. My camp, called Maslowtopia and organized by famed hotelier Chip Conley (author of Peak), gathered a motley crew of around 100 all-stars from around the world, including incredible artists, organic chefs, and wise Fortune-100 co-founders…

One of those all-stars was an A-list entrepreneur and former top-tier investment banker. Trained at Harvard as a lawyer and forged into the consummate dealmaker, she had literally built economies from scratch. Moments before the sandstorm, she had passed me a piece of paper.

Like me, like my mentors, like the billionaires I’ve met, she had her moments of doubt (I’ve written about this before).

No one is immune.

Her solace, and her elegant remedy, was on the piece of paper. It was the below poem, titled “Kindness” and written by Palestinian-American Naomi Shihab Nye.

I am not a poet. Furthermore, I almost never “get” poetry, as sad as that sounds. This prose, however, immediately hit me (it was visceral) as relevant and valuable enough to share. It’s from Naomi’s short collection, Words Under Words, which is now the only book of poetry I’ve ever purchased of my own free will.

I hope you’ll pass this along to those in your life who may need it.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Posted on: September 6, 2010.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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163 comments on “Discovering Kindness In The Storm

  1. I like it. Nice change of pace for the blog. Please keep reminding us what life is all about. I can testify that other people’s kindness has helped me a great deal to get where I am today.



  2. I like it. A random thought that bears some meaning – that’s a great poem right there.

    Regarding your parkour request; I guess you’ve already tried to hit up Damien Walters? I’m sure you’re familiar with him. That guy is a (positively speaking) beast.



  3. Burning Man is an incredible euphoria made up of energy you don’t normally experience in your everyday life. To me, it’s a place where you can discover other dimensions of yourself, and most importantly others. Although, it has a different definition to us all I guess. You must have had an incredible time Tim!!!! Quite a thing to get that from someone :)


  4. Stranger –

    Up until now, Charles Bukowski was the only poetry I purchased of my own accord. Last Night Of The Earth Poems, cinched it for me. But it wasn’t just the poems, it was the author writing the poems… couldn’t appreciate one without the other.

    Kindness is doing it for me too though.

    Thanks. I owe ya one.


  5. Great Poem. But it suggests that in order to show true kindness you need to lose your current self – or remove/understand that worldly possessions mean nothing, thus removing the shackles of life. I am not sure I agree with that fully.

    I do agree that great kindness is often preceded by great sorrow. Think of relatives forgiving the people who murdered their sons or wifes etc.

    The world could do with a lot more kindness


  6. Tim-

    Great post. Mom passed in April after going all 12 rounds with cancer. Thanks for passing the poem along, I will read it again.

    Best rgs,


  7. BEAUTIFUL poem! Thank you for sharing it!

    That reminds me of another one I absolutely love – “The Invitation” by Oriah.

    Here it is:

    It doesn’t interest me
    what you do for a living.
    I want to know
    what you ache for
    and if you dare to dream
    of meeting your heart’s longing.

    It doesn’t interest me
    how old you are.
    I want to know
    if you will risk
    looking like a fool
    for love
    for your dream
    for the adventure of being alive.

    It doesn’t interest me
    what planets are
    squaring your moon…
    I want to know
    if you have touched
    the centre of your own sorrow
    if you have been opened
    by life’s betrayals
    or have become shrivelled and closed
    from fear of further pain.

    I want to know
    if you can sit with pain
    mine or your own
    without moving to hide it
    or fade it
    or fix it.

    I want to know
    if you can be with joy
    mine or your own
    if you can dance with wildness
    and let the ecstasy fill you
    to the tips of your fingers and toes
    without cautioning us
    to be careful
    to be realistic
    to remember the limitations
    of being human.

    It doesn’t interest me
    if the story you are telling me
    is true.
    I want to know if you can
    disappoint another
    to be true to yourself.
    If you can bear
    the accusation of betrayal
    and not betray your own soul.
    If you can be faithless
    and therefore trustworthy.

    I want to know if you can see Beauty
    even when it is not pretty
    every day.
    And if you can source your own life
    from its presence.

    I want to know
    if you can live with failure
    yours and mine
    and still stand at the edge of the lake
    and shout to the silver of the full moon,

    It doesn’t interest me
    to know where you live
    or how much money you have.
    I want to know if you can get up
    after the night of grief and despair
    weary and bruised to the bone
    and do what needs to be done
    to feed the children.

    It doesn’t interest me
    who you know
    or how you came to be here.
    I want to know if you will stand
    in the centre of the fire
    with me
    and not shrink back.

    It doesn’t interest me
    where or what or with whom
    you have studied.
    I want to know
    what sustains you
    from the inside
    when all else falls away.

    I want to know
    if you can be alone
    with yourself
    and if you truly like
    the company you keep
    in the empty moments.



  8. Tim, Great book and appreciate the change of pace for today. Regarding your parkour search, I highly recommend Ozzy Quintero from Hawaii Parkour. He taught a seminar out there about 2 years ago. The guy is amazing, a great teacher and a completely humble traceur. Check him out at Hawaii Parkour.