There used to be a bumper sticker that said something along the lines of ‘Practise random acts of kindness’. I’ve not seen it for a while but looking around at today’s world I think it might be time for a reprint.
Reading the papers, hearing and watching the news – there seems to be a global dearth of kindness. Politicians of all colours constantly attack and belittle each other with their frequent ad hominem slanging matches. TV chat show hosts are quick to judge and criticise celebrities, usually on their looks or various ‘malfunctions’. We talk of Schadenfreude, defined as the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune.
The tabloids are full of sniping, harsh comments and the media generally seems to delight in showing unkind photos of people who are often in distressing situations.
As for social media! Many people are hurt beyond belief by vicious trolls who shoot their poison darts from behind a screen of anonymity.
So what is kindness?
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. From the Middle English kinde, from Old English (ge) cynde originally ‘with the feeling of relatives for each other,’ Online Etymology Dictionary
Kindness is taught by all world religions and even plants and animals respond to it. The biblical definition is essentially not a lot different. Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. God’s kindness is ‘innate’, and intentionally good; it is mentioned throughout Scripture as ‘common grace.’ God is eternally kind to all creation (Psalm 145:9), despite our ingratitude and turning away from him. (Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:45). God’s kindness is intended to bring us closer to him.
In Romans chapter 2 verse 4 Paul asks
… Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? New International Version (NIV)
In Proverbs chapter 16 verse 24 we read
Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
But why should we bother?
Kindness does not come naturally to us humans – we are by nature self-serving, competitive. We need to work on being kind, to make it part of our natural response to others. And in doing so we are reflecting God’s kindness and love and grace and that is a good thing.
It certainly can make us feel good, that we have helped someone, often in a very simple way, such as holding an umbrella over a wheelchair, or opening a door. We’ve done our good deed for the day! The ‘pay it forward’ and suspended coffee ideas are good examples; or just smiling at a stranger or the checkout kid and saying ‘hello’.
A young mother recently wrote to our local paper, praising a young wild-looking youth who noticed a 5 year-old girl trying to master her skateboard in the park near a gang of older boys. She felt daunted by the bigger boys, and her mother was about to take her home when the youth walked over to the girl and gently showed her how to manoeuvre her board and make the turns. His mates laughed at him, but he persevered and the girl felt quite safe and pleased at her new-found skills. I’m sure the lad felt just as good about sharing his skills with a novice.
I had a lovely experience of unexpected kindness when there was a day-long power blackout and my all-electric house meant I couldn’t even make a cuppa. My neighbour and I were discussing our changed plans for the day. About 10 minutes later she knocked at the door, with a large thermos of hot water for a day’s supply of cuppas. ‘I have a gas cooker’, she said.
These are not necessarily God-moments, but as we ‘bother’ to be kind, in everyday, small ways we are nevertheless reflecting something of God’s love and light.
In an Essay on Kindness Mark Twain said ‘Being kind to others instils a positive feeling and makes this world a better place to live.’
I guess what it takes is a change in attitude. Perhaps we need that bumper sticker again. I am reminded of that golden oldie made famous by Glenn Campbell in the 60s, Try a Little Kindness.
If you see your brother standing by the road
With a heavy load from the seeds he sowed
And if you see your sister falling by the way
Just stop and say
You’re on the wrong way!
But you’ve got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for every one to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you'll overlook the blindness
Of the narrow minded people
On the narrow minded street
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is a freelance editor and production editor for the Tasmanian Anglican magazine. She sings in the choir of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in bushland on the foothills of Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html