Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17 (NLT)
I have been highlighting virtues. To refresh, a virtue is a trait or quality that is morally good. It is a behavior that demonstrates high moral standards: doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong. I have discussed some important virtues recently: humility, discernment, wisdom, charity, and perseverance. This week I want to look at kindness.
We know the quality of kindness to mean being proactively friendly, generous, considerate, selfless, caring, compassionate, and thinking of others’ feelings. It is a component of love, one of the ways in which love is shown. And like love, it takes practice to understand and feel. We share love with others through kind acts such as a smile, a nice word, an unexpected deed, or a planned surprise.
Kind and gentle words are healing. In Proverbs 12:25 we read: Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Also, from Proverbs 16:23-24: Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
As Christians, we are called to point out hurtful behavior and words. This is why we cringe when we see others commit offenses. Just know that this is not easy to do, and this is probably because we do not know how to kindly rebuke someone’s harmful actions and words. It takes practice to get over the awkwardness and must be based on love.
From the Testament of Gad, a lost book of the Bile estimated to have been written in the late 12t century to the early 2nd, we read, “Love ye therefore one another from your hearts; and if a man sin against thee, tell him of it gently, and drive out the poison of hatred, and foster not guile in thy soul. And if he confess and repent, forgive him; and if he deny it, strive not with him, lest he swear, and thou sin doubly.”
A possible approach could be: “I get where you are coming from, and I see it a little differently…”. It is not, “…but I see it differently.” It is …”AND I see it differently.” The word ‘but’ becomes antagonistic. Wherever possible, it is a kind thing to replace the word 'but' with the word 'and.'
It is amazing how many confrontations we can diffuse by removing defensiveness and hostility. When we stick to what we are feeling, we give the other person permission to explain his or her point of view. Honesty is the basis of kindness. Kindness cannot exist in a world of shadows.
We are called to demonstrate, educate, and serve as an example of kindness and how to love others. Some people have never seen kindness modeled and know no other means of relating to people other than being mean. God uses our kindness as a means of reaching into the hearts of others and clearing away the worldly cobwebs.
Kindness, of course, encompasses more than just words. Kindness can be expressed through our actions and attitudes, as well. It is more than just treating people nicely. Christ calls us to treat people the way they want to be treated. In Matthew 7:17 Jesus tells us “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” This is known as the Golden Rule, the standard for how to treat others kindly and love them.
We cannot always choose whether we are rich, or good looking, or clever, or have perfect bone structure or flawless skin, or whether we are born into a position of sophistication, or any of the other qualities or characteristics that so many people admire…but we can all be kind.
Kindness refers to feeling others as an extension of ourself and taking joy in doing good for them. Kindness means serving and giving and enjoying it for the act itself. Kindness forms the core of the social fabric of our society and is the foundation of several other virtues including consideration, generosity, selflessness, compassion, service, sensitivity, friendliness, and cooperation.
Colossians 3:12, Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. When we wake up in the morning, we decide what to wear, how we are going to be dressed. Do we ever ask ourselves, “What attitude am I going to wear today?” Will it be one of kindness, gentleness, patience, and humility?
For me, the word kindness implies action; it is not the same as a feeling of compassion; it is compassion in action. It is not the same as caring or concern; it is caring, and concern directed toward someone or something. Kindness is love in action; it is something we do. We hold a hand; we give a hug, we encourage.
And of course, there is a risk when we show kindness – there is always the possibility that our kindness is met with hostility or misunderstanding. But trust and kindness walk hand-in-hand. To give the gift of trust is to be kind. Still, sometimes we are disappointed.
A 12-year-old girl was with a group who were collecting cans and donations for ARMS – Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis. They were in a large mall and a musician was setting up his audio gear. The girl approached the musician and kindly asked him about contributing to their charity. The man suddenly wheeled around and berated this young girl, swearing at her loudly.
Perhaps we have experienced something similar – where our kindness was returned with anger. If we let our ego have its way, that sort of experience could dampen any motivation to do kind things in the future. If we pursue kindness, we can rekindle the spirit of generosity and benevolence. That’s what this little girl did.
The young girl was embarrassed but did not respond. Instead, she walked over to where her purse was, got out some loose change and went back to the musician and placed it in his hat. The man immediately apologized and thanked the girl. He took some time to talk with the girl, again apologizing for his rude and demeaning behavior.
Afterwards, one of her friends asked her why she gave the man money after he treated her so badly. Her reply was “Recently I have been reading in my Bible that Jesus said that we are to do good to those who are mean to us. So that’s why I gave the man the money.”
It is good to open our hearts and minds to extending healing kindness in all situations. S.H. Simmons said, “Kindness is never wasted. If it has no effect on the recipient, at least it benefits the bestower.” Plato taught: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
Everybody we meet is fighting a battle of some type, so our kindness to others is important. Trust the kindness we give. Our soul is nourished when we are showing kindness; we do not know what emotions our kindness forces to the surface in another. Our overt kindness puts them face to face with their own natures – and sometimes that may be difficult to bear. So, we continue to blanket everyone with kindness because kindness enlivens, beautifies, and enriches all that it touches: the receiver and the giver.
More than anything else, kindness is a measure of our humanity. The collective practice of this spiritual gift defines the development and direction of not only our nation, but of our species. Kindness is the voice of God speaking through us, communicating through us, transforming our love and compassion into action to improve the lives of others.
Kindness also improves us, and compels us to help and respect others, and realize our oneness with each other. Kindness inspires an ethical behavior that crosses all religious boundaries. It is the spiritual directive within “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Kindness directs us to the essence of life itself: connectedness.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to make us aware of all the people who are hurting around us, not just our closest friends and family. The question we must ask ourselves is: What is my excuse for not helping them? Why am I not a kind person? For some, the number one enemy of kindness is busyness! It takes effort to reach past our distractions and focus on being kind.
When we experience kindness, we feel affirmed, and healed by the connection and wholeness we feel. When people are seen as objects, separate from us and not part of the whole, it is easy to neglect them, even harm them; kindness has no place to roost.
But when we see people as part of the whole of all, and we are connected in this oneness, then it is easier to be kind. If we are open to someone, we feel their feelings and they feel ours. We feel understood by them and we understand them. Kindness flows through this spiritual conduit. When we give this connection to others, we give it to Christ within us; to that spiritual nature of us. In Matthew 25:40: “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”
The kindness that we share returns in due course. If we are feeling a little undernourished spiritually, a little lonely, or a little lost…try kindness, a random act of kindness blesses us. According to Mark Twain: Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.
Not sure of how to get started being kind? Try a suggestion by Og Mandino: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”
Kindness is slow-paced; it revels in attention to details and nuance. We create time and space for kindness. Our ego wants to shrink kindness into something hurried, compact, and manageable. But kindness is expansive and without pressure. When we face life free of the urgency to get there first, to earn more, have more, and do more, then we experience life and all who live in this world as fellow travelers, life-companions rather than obstacles to our desires and needs.
It is my prayer that we adopt kindness as a way of life, in our words, attitudes, actions, visions, and how we treat each other. It is the way of Christ and heals our own souls and the souls of others. I leave you with these words from Mother Theresa: “Spread love everywhere you go: First of all, in your own house ... let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”