Paean to Kindness

What does it mean to be a “good person”? It would be disingenuous to suggest that I have THE answer, but I’ve been contemplating some factors of that question recently, and I certainly have my own ideas about it.

When I was growing up, my mom placed an enormous emphasis on doing the right thing, on being a good person, especially when no one was looking. She taught me that being a good person actually meant doing what was right when it didn’t benefit you, when you might never be praised for it, when no one might ever even know you’d done the right thing. She taught me that to be a bodhisattva was the highest calling one could have, that making the world better for everyone was the most important thing she could do, and by extension, that I could do.

It’s not our job to play judge and jury, to determine who is worthy of our kindness and who is not. We just need to be kind, unconditionally and without ulterior motive, even – or rather, especially – when we’d prefer not to be.
Josh Radnor

We do not live in a kind society or a kind world, but we can do our part to make it more so.  We have a choice in how we behave because we have the benefit(?) of reason. We have free will. We can do differently than has been done to us, we can choose kindness.

Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.
Samuel Johnson

 Are you a good person because you do work that cares for people or the planet?
What if you do that work, but are judgmental of people who make different life choices than you do, or are mean to people you disagree with? Do you make jokes at the expense of others? Do you use snark to cut people down? Do you hurt people to feel better about yourself?
Does your job nullify those small acts of cruelty? I would argue no. I think you can certainly do good without being good.

The true greatness of a person, in my view, is evident in the way he or she treats those with whom courtesy and kindness are not required.
Joseph B. Wirthlin

At my job, there is a client I have to deal with on a semi-regular basis who is quite grumpy and grudging about using the products and services I support. He was told he had to use them, and he complains to me about it even as I am helping him to use them successfully. He doesn’t want to learn to do things this way, and he makes some frustrating and inexplicable choices in his methods. I have nothing against him personally, and I would never be rude to him, but dealing with him is a serious challenge that taxes my patience and I definitely don’t look forward to our conversations. Then, the other day as we were talking he mentioned that his wife got lost, and it turns out she has Alzheimer’s disease and is deteriorating significantly. My frustration vanished in an instant and all I felt at that moment was compassion for his struggle and for hers. That doesn’t mean that he won’t continue to frustrate me or challenge my patience, but his humanness became much more palpable to me and I’m sure he could use a little extra kindness as he muddles through.

And couldn’t we all.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

I have been the subject of quite a bit of both intentional and casual cruelty over the course of my life. I suppose I’ve become stronger for surviving it, but it certainly has made everything exponentially more difficult, and I’ve really worked hard to overcome the cruel voice in my head that mirrors what has been cast at me. It is still a work in progress, I am still a work in progress, but holding on to the cruelties and projecting them back out into the world doesn’t actually ease my way forward. Rather the opposite because then I’m just stewing in the thing that’s hurting me.

Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.
Barbara de Angelis

So, though I certainly get angry (and even resentful on occasion), and I feel wounded by the slings and arrows of fucking outrageous fortune, I choose not to perpetuate those cruelties. I choose to be kind, regardless of whether people think I’m too soft. Regardless of whether people take advantage of my kindness. Regardless of insults or dismissals.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

I know it actually takes tremendous fortitude to remain kind in this often cruel world. Kindness is the true source of my strength, and I don’t regret a minute of it.

Naomi Shihab Nye, from The Words Under the Words

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.