In honor of #worldkindnessday I am posting a chapter of my upcoming little book called Rules 101. Kindness is a gem of a spiritual gift. I’m in awe of those who seem to come by it naturally. I’m striving to uncover more of it in myself.
May you experience some true kindness today.
Rule #5 Be Kind:
Years ago when I taught high school, I led a tour of a dozen or so students to Washington, DC. I recall much of that trip fondly. The schedule was jammed with museums, historical places, and memorable sights. One stands out, distinctly because it was not enjoyable.
We spent a couple of hours touring the Holocaust Memorial, wandering from exhibit to exhibit, through the vast museum, all of which powerfully conveyed the tragedy of genocide. Few exhibits grabbed the students by the collar and seized their attention like this tour did. It whispered in every ear, “Attention must be paid.” Tears trickled down cheeks. Sweat formed on clammy palms. Our spirits merged and mourned for a people we did not know in an era far removed from ours.
We gathered at the end for a moment of silent
reflection, just our group. I felt the need to say something, yet wondered if this was one of those times to stay out of the way and let each person take a few steps of their own on their spiritual journey. Finally, I took out a big white card and a sharpie and wrote, “Be Kind.” I held it up and said,“If you folks learn anything that lasts on this trip, please learn these two words.”
I’m still working on learning that every day. I hardly knew what I spoke of at the time, but I felt it.
As time passed, I realized that little seed had started to grow. The idea of being kind soon infused much of my response to the world around me. I remained a highly flawed person, full of struggles and failings. But I’ve never forgotten that when in doubt simply try to be kind. I think it became a fundamental aspect of how I saw myself and a standard I could gauge my actions.
If it were easy to be kind, the world would be a gentler place. Kindness remains rare, an endangered species of human behaviors despite bumper stickers that state “Practice random acts of kindness.” Easier said than done, though well worth the effort.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that eventually I found my soul mate in a woman who was, and still is, the kindest person I know. I’m enthralled by her kindness. It’s a perfect rose in the midst of thorns, weeds, and crabgrass so common in our world. The more I’m touched by her kindness, the more I’m determined to find reserves of it within myself.
I truly believe kindness kills cancer and other illnesses. Kindness flows out of us releasing a healing energy within us. It is as important to my day as physical exercise, good, healthy food, vitamins and things that strengthen and challenge my mind.
In my journey through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned how resentments formed within us like emotional cancers. They fester and latch on and spread through our souls. Yet the only cure is not what I expected. I assumed I’d eventually have me to go to the people that hurt me and the people I resent and tell them how their actions affected me. Instead, it was the opposite. The steps directed me to make amends to those I hurt. In the steps, I had to be kind. And because the process of making amends will likely take me a decade or more, I constantly have to search my actions for the things I do to hurt others and find a way to respond in kindness. The discipline of kindness results.
As for those who hurt me, I learned two powerful things. First, often they are the same people I hurt. By making amends, I often found remission of the cancerous resentments inside of me. I never saw it coming. I assumed it would work like a children’s sitcom. I’d say sorry; the other person would say sorry, we’d hug, and it would all be better. But it didn’t work that way at all.
In one particular instance, I spent a long, difficult time listening to how I caused pain. I wanted to fight back and defend myself. I felt my hurt rise anew. Instead, I prayed. Then I apologized, and I changed how I acted in ways the person said they wanted.
And that was it. The other person never heard me out. They never apologized. But they felt better. They forgave me. Within a short while, I realized my resentments were gone as well. I just felt the kindness I lacked suddenly emerge. For a long time now it seems to have stuck around. The cancer is gone, kindness in its place. Those unexpressed grievances aren’t that important to me any longer.
The second powerful thing I learned is called the resentment prayer. Alcoholics Anonymous instructs people struggling with resentment, to channel their energy differently. Instead of letting those negative thoughts run on an endless loop in our mind, poisoning our mood and fostering bitterness in our soul, they instruct us to pray for these very people. And the prayer isn’t “Lord, smite these sinners!” No, it’s the opposite. The resentment prayer is a prayer of blessing, more along the lines of, “Lord, you know So and So and how I hope they burn in hell, right? Well, change of plans. I’d like you to bless them. I’d like you to make their lives wonderful and beautiful and free them from all that ails them…”
I admit I prayed these prayers through gritted teeth. But I prayed the prayers. In the days that followed, I felt the grip of resentments lessen. Soon, I rarely thought about these things at all. Eventually, I experienced forgiveness to some degree.
Jesus instructed us to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. I never fully understood why we had to do this until I actually did it.
I learned one other amazing spiritual truth about kindness the deeper I delved into it and sought it for myself. It is one of the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Against such things there is no law,” The Apostle Paul — himself once an angry, hateful dude — wrote to us. Kindness isn’t something only a few wonderful people are born with. It is a gift from God that we all can have if we take the time to ask for it.
The more we receive, the more we give it away and the cycle continues to gain steam producing positive energy that actually can transform a human heart, a relationship, a community and a world.
In every circumstance, in every relationship, in everyday opportunities to respond to our environment will present itself. In each one, as much as possible, give serious consideration to a kind response. At times, the kindest thing will cut like a scalpel. At other times, it will comfort like a mother’s embrace. In all circumstances, it will infuse you with a sense of empowerment.
Remember, be kind.