I find myself having a hard time writing about kindness because it seems like such a simple, self-explanatory matter: be kind. Be kind to yourself, others, the planet. And, on the other end of the spectrum, don’t be cruel.
In saying that, however, I realize that we might be cutting ourselves short if our goal is merely not to be cruel. It’s theoretically not that difficult to not be cruel: don’t call people names, or bully, or go out of your way to intentionally harm another individual. Simply not being cruel though, doesn’t necessarily mean you are being kind. It’s like the oath of a physician: do no harm. Doing no harm to our fellow beings is great and in some circumstances it might be all we can hope for. Nevertheless, when possible I wonder what it looks like to go a step farther and do each other well. To heal, care for, be kind to?
When I was younger I had a book called “Kid’s Random Acts of Kindness” in which children told stories of how others had been kind to them. One entry that I have remembered for over the last two decades was short and sweet: “Reece, picked a burr off my back*”. Now, one could argue that putting a burr on someone else’s back would be cruel while leaving alone a burr that is already there would fall under doing no harm, because you aren’t responsible for the burr. But kindness, as Reece so aptly demonstrates, is picking the burr that is not your responsibility off of someone else’s back merely because it is a nice, thoughtful thing to do.
It makes me wonder: when was the last time you “picked a burr” off of your neighbor’s back, so to speak? Perhaps that looks like holding a door open, or letting a frazzled mother go ahead of you in the grocery line, maybe it is as simple as asking a friend, colleague, or acquaintance how they are doing and truly meaning it.
Additionally, when was the last time someone gifted you with kindness? Take a minute to really stop and think about it, to remember what it felt like, to appreciate the experience of being connected to others in a meaningful way. That’s the thing about kindness, it helps us to step outside of our isolated journeys and reminds us that we are connected to others, that we are not alone.
Kindness, like most virtues, can also be directed inwardly to ourselves. There is a different sensation behind merely trying not to do ourselves harm and more intentionally being kind to ourselves. When was the last time you were kind to yourself? Gave yourself a compliment? Let yourself off the hook? Pampered yourself for no real reason?
In a world where pain and violence are undeniably real and extensive, I fear that if our goal is merely not to be cruel to one another then we risk living in apathy and losing our compassion. Maybe it’s not so simple after all, maybe we do need to get back to the basics: be nice, care, practice kindness.
Connection to Faith:
Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?”. “To love kindness”: what an inspiring idea. Not merely to do kindness, but to love it. When I think of things I love, they are things I generally devote a decent amount of time and attention to, things or beings that I make a priority in my life. The invitation to “love kindness” within Scripture seems then to involve making kindness a priority, devoting time and attention to it, rather than merely keeping it as an option on your back burner. Today, perhaps, the call is to consider one concrete way in which you can practice kindness with yourself, others, or the world.
Nikki Holm, MA, Chaplain