Sometimes I think kindness is everything. Now some people might disagree with me and argue that love is everything. Maybe so. But even St. Paul, in his great “Hymn to Charity,” tells the Corinthians that “love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4).
What is kindness? Here’s my definition: Kindness is treating others with respect and tenderness. That word “others” refers primarily to other people, but it includes even myself. Kindness, like charity, begins at home! The word “others” includes more than human beings too. It refers to all living things—cats, dogs, birds, horses, elephants, whales—and even inanimate things such as buildings, beaches, rivers, stones. The word “respect” means we have regard for people and things, we value them, we hold them in esteem. I added “tenderness” to my definition of kindness because I can’t imagine kindness without it. (I also believe the measure of a truly great person is their ability to be tender.)
Why do I think kindness is everything? For one thing, kindness is the bedrock of civilization. It is the “lubricant” that enables people to live easily and well together. I agree with the writer Charles Lucas who said, “Civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind.” (I would add that maturity is just a slow process of learning to be kind! How many times did our parents have to tell us to say please, say thank you, give Grandma a hug, share your toy with your cousin, close your mouth when you chew, speak with your indoor voice—all directives on how to be kind.)
Kindness tends to be expressed in concrete little acts: we smile at someone, we hold the door open for them, we give another driver a break in traffic, we pay attention to someone who’s talking, we toss our litter into the trash bin, we speak respectfully to and about others, we clean up after ourselves, we recycle, we do small favors for others. Kindness must be directed toward everyone, not just toward people we like or people we agree with. Genuine kindness is bestowed on individuals even when they don’t deserve it. Kindness is also ubiquitous. No matter who or where you are, no matter your circumstances, you can be kind.
The Dalai Lama has said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” I think he has something there. Though dogmas, prayers, and rituals are important, they mean very little without kindness.
Jesus must have been an extremely kind person. Why else were so many diverse people so attracted to him? Jesus expressed kindness in his teachings, his manner of living, and his manner of dying. When he spoke about love, he described simple acts of kindness: visiting someone in prison, comforting one who mourns, giving clothes to those in need, giving a cup of water to the thirsty. His final acts were all about kindness: his tender concern for his mother,
I think when someone is kind to me, something physical happens to me. I smile, I breathe easier, I relax, I feel better. Similarly, when I am kind, something happens to me. I smile, I breathe easier, I relax, I feel better. Kindness is good for both giver and receiver. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someday that kindness lowers blood pressure or increases those good endorphins we read so much about.
Naomi Shihab Nye has written a poignant poem entitled “Kindness” in which she links kindness to the experience of sorrow. She writes, “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,/ you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” Plato wrote something in a similar vein: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Life is good, yes, but sometimes it is a hard battle. May our own experience of life’s challenges and sorrows be an impetus for us to be reach out to others in kindness.
What do you think?
Does the kindness of others help you face life’s challenges and sorrows?
(For personal reflection: How kind are you?)
PS: Thank you for you wishes and prayers for my birthday last week and your positive words about this blog. WOW! I was deeply touched by your kindness!