Kindness is not something we talk about much these days. Certainly we recognise it in others when they do something kind towards us, but how often do we focus on doing acts of kindness ourselves? Do we actively seek ways to be kind to our ‘neighbour’?
I cannot remember my (very kind) parents teaching us the value of being kind, but they certainly modelled it. And when, as an adult, I read the autobiography of a man I greatly admired, one thing he said remained with me above all else: a lady once gave him as a gift a picture she had stitched, which he hung above the desk in his office. It read:
“It is better to be kind than right.”
I was really struck by that. In a world where being right – winning the argument – is so highly prized, I was struck by the humility of a highly successful man who wanted to be reminded daily that kindness was the better way. And his life continued to be…highly successful. For kindness is not weakness – quite the opposite, in fact.
I live with a bunch of pretty intelligent, articulate people who all want their voice to be heard. Remembering that I do not have to join in the debate all of the time is an object lesson in patience, and I am still learning it. I am trying not to follow my natural instinct to go on and on until others agree with my viewpoint. In fact, if it is something I really care about, I prefer to sow a seed and see if it grows rather than bludgeon others into submission.
That reminds me of something I heard about fear. We can get others to do what we want through fear (think of Hitler), but what we fear we eventually grow to hate. Can you honestly think of anything you fear and like, never mind love? The two are incompatible.
A positive angle
Similarly, we can be right about something, but very, very unkind in how we share the truth with the other person. Unkindness can make what is true into something negative and unhelpful. Would you find it inspiring to be told you are unreliable and lazy for forgetting your homework? It might jolt you into remembering next time, but would it build you up and give you a love of learning for its own sake? I don’t think so.
My mission in life (or one of them) is to be kinder. In the small things and maybe in the big things too. One way of doing that for my daughter and me was to go to Kenya and help build a nursery for children. It was a very tough experience – more so for me than my more courageous daughter – and I did not enjoy every moment.
Actually I hated the toilets, the smells, the risk of malaria, the relentless poverty, the sense of powerlessness looking at an orphanage full of AIDS-infected babies, some of the food, the way the kids at the school swarmed all over you barely giving you space to breathe…
But it was also wonderful. I had a sense of accomplishment when I saw the finished building, knowing that I had put some of those bricks in place. I cried to see the faces of the children when we handed out football kit, small toys and stationery to them. I was overwhelmed by their kindness to me.