We live in a time when kindness is viewed as a rather quaint, old-fashioned act like standing up when a lady enters the room or taking a plate of cookies to the people who just moved in next door. Most people seem to think that kindness is an admirable trait, but completely irrelevant and impractical in today’s cut-throat society. And when we are unexpectedly confronted by a “random act of kindness”, we tend to step back from it and wonder what it is the perpetrator wants. Let’s face it, we’ve become a paranoid, cynical society, and not without good reason. Everywhere one turns there are people who are all too quick to judge without giving a thought to what has led up to a given situation.
I remember at the time of my mother’s sudden, unexpected death in December of 2004, I was out for some reason and in my state of shock and grief, and distressed over the financial burden and all of the details that surround a family death, I inadvertently drifted toward the lane next to me on Perkins Road. I caught and corrected myself, but when the fellow in that lane (some yards back, I might add) drew up next to me, he flipped me off with an expression on his face that I can only liken to the face of a Tolkien Orc.
Then there was one of my turncoat fans who, after having read my blog entry about Mom’s death, left a hateful comment about how I abused and neglected her, and was glad that she was dead. While our relationship had its troubled times, my mother and I also loved each other very much and I’d taken very tender care of her those years she lived with us preceding her death. Reading this person’s comment was so hurtful, and it came at a time when I was completely vulnerable to attack, that I responded only with, “Your ugliness has hit its mark. I hope you’ve gained some happiness for it.” What makes a person act so unkindly? It has been my experience that, usually, even the nastiest people follow an unspoken code of calling a truce in certain extreme situations, like honoring an emotional DMZ.
Conversely, I remember back in the early ’80s after I’d come home from the hospital following major surgery. I could hardly walk without help. I lived alone in those days and while recovering, I occupied the couch in the den where the telly was situated. It was a long hall that led to the living room, a trek I made only if absolutely necessary. The day after I came home, the doorbell rang, so I shuffled down that endlessly long hall and through the living room to the front door. The caller was a woman whose car had died and she wanted to know if she could use my phone. I let her in, explained my situation and excused myself to return to the den. After she made her call, she called out a thank you to me and quietly let herself out. The next morning the doorbell rang again and when I got to the door, I found sitting on my front step a potted plant and an anonymous thank you/get well card from the woman, who was nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have to do that, but her act of kindness is something I’ve never forgotten.
The thing is, kindness takes a lot less exertion than meanness. It requires less work and less energy, but it pays itself back extravagantly. What goes around comes around, as they say. I’m a firm believer in the threefold law that states that whatever we send out comes back to us three times over. I’ve seen this law at work throughout my life and I generally try to live by it. No one’s perfect, though, and I sometimes have to check myself and consider that the egg-brain who just cut me off might be going through something that has made them temporarily absentminded. And even if that’s not the case and they’re just driving badly, the knowing smile I give them almost always elicits a sheepish smile in return, and they begin driving better. How easy is that?
Of course, there are people out there who, reacting from their fears, just don’t seem to give a crap about anyone, but I think it’s important to keep our focus on ourselves and be self-accountable for our own actions and reactions. Their acts of unkindness don’t make us respond in like manner, we choose to do so, and I’ve learned that people who are unkind are people who have been hurt. Unkindness is a defense mechanism, one that I enjoy disarming although it’s not always easy. And, sometimes, the hardest thing I attempt is being kind with myself when I react rather than respond to someone’s unkindness. But it’s always in my mind, even when the emotions run high. And I understand that being kind to myself is the first step.
Art Credit: Bird In The Hand by Jamie Cahlil.