Michael J. Chase
By Sophie Nelson
Photograph by Greta Tucker
NAME: Michael J. Chase
OCCUPATION: Best-selling author and founder of the Kindness Center
Michael J. Chase is the founder of the Kindness Center, an online source of inspiration, and the author of am I being kind and the forthcoming book ‘The Radical Practice of Loving Everyone.’
What is your connection to Maine?
I was born and raised in the Bangor and Brewer area for the most part. I was in Bangor until the mid-90s working as a photographer. Then I met my wife, Cara, who lived in southern Maine. I pulled up my business, my life, moved to southern Maine in 1996. We’re in Biddeford now.
How did your photography career turn into a pursuit of kindness?
There was an employment ad in the paper for a place called Bangor Photographics. I knew nothing about photography, but I needed a job—I had a little boy to take care of. Within a few months, I was hooked. I fell in love with photography and from 1991 to 2007 that was my life, my passion. But still there was this emptiness. I felt inspired when I was photographing, but I had a very unkind family history that I dragged with me. I was searching and searching, reading hundreds of books looking for inspiration. I’d finish a book and be like, “Great! This is it. I know how to fix myself.” But a month later, I’d feel empty again. Finally in the spring of 2007, on just an ordinary day, I met a very unlikely teacher and was given the message that if you really want your life to change, if you want to be totally fulfilled and happy, then you must be kinder. Kinder to yourself and to other people. Bringing those ideas together—that changed my life.
How do you define kindness?
It’s love in action. It’s love in motion. In the moment that you are emitting compassionate, loving energy, you can’t feel depressed, resentful, angry, jealous. In the presence of kindness, all the negative emotions that human beings experience go away. There is a difference between being kind and being nice. A truly kind heart expects nothing in return.
You speak to children and adults across the country, and share this message with readers through your writing.We’re all told to be kind. How is your message different?
I often begin speeches by saying, “There’s nothing new that you’re going to learn here today. My job is to simply remind you of what you already know in your heart to be true.” We all know to be loving and compassionate and kind; to be good to people is the best way to live. When we came into this world, we weren’t prejudiced. We were just unconditionally loving, curious beings. It’s all about remembering who you really are. I’ve never met another being who radiates so much unconditional love as my dog Mollie. We walk a few miles every day and we meet people from all walks of life. When I see someone walking toward me, my mind jumps toward that judgmental tendency: “Be careful, walk a little bit to the side.” Not Mollie. She sees the divine in everyone. She doesn’t care what you look like, how much is in your bank account. None of it. She just wants to play. I think curiosity is the cure for a judgmental mind.
How do you practice kindness day to day?
I live in Maine, but I’ll be honest—I just don’t like winter. So, when we get snowstorm after snowstorm, I get a little grouchy. And I get tired of all the shoveling. To transform that negative energy, I throw my snow blower and some shovels in the back of my truck. I go out, and I drive around town and I look for anyone who’s buried in their driveway and looks like they need help. Shoveling and snow-blowing my own yard? I despise it. But you do it for somebody else and your heart opens and you feel good. At the end of the day it’s really all about being happy, especially with ourselves. This will allow us to live in kinder ways.