Season of kindness
Ever feel impelled to give the world a big hug? We thrive on kindness. And though we frequently witness examples of callousness both in our own lives and in the news, displays of intolerance and indifference should only strengthen a desire to resist such behavior and encourage respectful relationships.
A look-out-for-yourself mentality is unnatural. We start out in life as sharers. Through their constant caregiving, the vast majority of moms and dads instill in us the capacities of empathy and generosity.
That nurturing is health-giving to children. And it endures into adulthood. Encouragement and kindheartedness foster wellbeing not only in recipients, but in contributors as well. Stephen Post, Director for the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, recently quoted the Book of Proverbs when speaking before a group in Cleveland: "A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."
Post, who also founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, has written: "Unselfish love of others is the ultimate and universal source of the meaning, dignity, and deep happiness that we frail creatures seek...Love is the fundamental dynamic that moves us to 'do unto others' in active kindness and generosity, affirming the significance and worth of all others, and of ourselves as well; love comforts, heals, creates, liberates, and elevates our lives in a way that nothing can."
Of course the liberation and elevation of our lives Post speaks of is central to what we read in the Bible. Mary Baker Eddy, a Christian author who spent her life substantiating the source of goodness to be God, once wrote, "In the order of wisdom, the higher nature of man governs the lower. This lays the foundations of human affection in line with progress, giving them strength and permanence."
Kindness is more than mere tolerance, more than acceptance of others. Kindness is the enterprise of brotherly love. It is the spirit of friendship that inspires benevolent action. It is the labor of compassion. For the past few years I have shared a number of accounts of active, caring kindness in my columns: giving away an umbrella to a woman standing by a dark bus stop in the pouring rain; helping a woman free her car in a snow-covered alley; scouring the neighborhood for a lost child; and opening a home to strangers during turbulent times. These are just a few examples of love in action.
Kindness is not so rare a commodity that it has to be doled out sporadically. The impulse to act kindly should not be merely random in nature, but consistent and deliberate in demonstrating goodwill. Paying it forward, backward and all around, sharing blessings in all directions and at all times is what will transform the world's inhabitants and heal its woes.
And just as important as the overt actions of kindness, are the quieter, daily ones each of us needs to strive to manifest more: listening, patience, and forgiveness. These prominent qualities go a long way in correcting the debilitating effects of cruelty and malice.
The opportunities are not infrequent that encourage us to demonstrate our love for others. If we are ready to be a catalyst for kindness, we don't have to seek out occasions to be kind, they are all around us, present in every encounter we have. Let's embrace the opportunities. It will bless one and all.