01 Apr Kindness: A Dying Virtue?
“I have wept in the night
for the shortness of sight
that to somebody’s need I was blind.
But I never have yet felt a twinge of regret
for being a little too kind.” —anon.
There are so many issues in today’s society that have not only divided us, but have also made us less civil to one another. One does not have to go far to see or hear the hostilities. Many hostilities happen at sporting events between the fans of rival teams and team players. Many happen in the political arena. But the worst hostilities happen in our own homes in the way we speak to and treat each other. It’s unfortunate. It makes our homes less like a sanctuary and more like a prison. The one virtue that can help us is kindness.
I admit with shame that there have been times when I have been so filled with anger and frustration with my children that I will end up screaming at them. Two weeks ago when my husband was out of town and I was feeling the heat of being the Mom and the Dad, I snapped at my older son. Not only did I speak to him at the top of my voice, but I used some nasty curse words as well. My son was in tears. For five minutes I felt absolute jubilation thinking I had given him the scolding he deserved. (After all, he was being stubborn and defiant, and deserved Mom’s wrath.) But that jubilation soon turned to shame. I realized I could have and should have used a much better and kinder approach with him. My delivery had been a disaster, and it left both of us feeling miserable. I apologized to my son, and felt slightly better, but mostly I just wished I had never behaved so shamefully.
Now moving outside the home. I have seen and heard kindnesses and hostilities, but I am going to focus on the kindnesses. When my husband and I were young married students, living in married housing at the university we were attending, our landlord would come over about twice a week and fix things around the apartments where we lived. He was an older man, in his late seventies or early eighties. My husband and I were the only ones with children in our apartment complex. He would knock at my door and hand my one year old daughter the toy out of his Happy Meal. It was a small but significant gesture in my eyes. We would also call him and his wife on occasion and tell them we couldn’t make rent for another three or four days. They would always say, “Oh, that’s all right,” and allow us the extra days we needed to pay the rent. One time, our landlord noticed that one of my neighbors was trying to grow cantaloupe. The soil was poor and her project was failing, but our dear landlord, trying to give her encouragement, placed a large ripe cantaloupe in the middle of her dying vines. My husband and I moved away, and three months later heard from one of our neighbors that this dear landlord had passed away. I lay in bed that night and cried. He had been so good to my family, and that evening I fell asleep thinking of his many kindnesses.
There seem to be two things that people do not forget: one is when people are unkind to them, the other is when people have been kind to them. One day, my oldest daughter and I were in a car accident. I’d like to say it was a minor accident, but it was not. Thankfully no one was injured or killed. But as I sat on the curb holding my head in my hands and sobbing, I felt worse that passersby were walking around me and pretending that nothing had happened.
Finally, one woman sat down next to me and asked me if I was all right. The flood of thankfulness I felt toward her was overwhelming. I asked her if she would just sit next to me and talk to me. I told her that people ignoring me was making me feel worse. She sat next to me and offered me words of comfort until my husband arrived on the scene. I don’t know who that woman was, but I am thankful to her to this day for taking the time to stop and comfort me. She didn’t have to, but she did.
“If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That felt like sunshine where it went–
Then you may count that day well spent.
But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay–
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face–
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost–
Then count that day as worse than lost.”
— George Elliot