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Of Kindness

What has happened to this country? Over the past several months and going back awhile if truth be told, the invective and vitriol spewed not only by candidates but by ordinary people has been as vicious as it’s ever been. Not only that but politeness and civility seem to be almost extinct; it’s more an item for comment when someone treats you with courtesy than when someone does not.

Then again, I’m not completely sure that Americans in general have had a worldwide reputation for treating others with kindness. We are confronted by the image of the Ugly American, particularly abroad. Rude, ignorant, insensitive – these are all traits I’m seeing when reading political posts online. Not so much from the people posting, although there is some of that among those who are supposed to be educated and literate – no, I’m talking about the responses, the comments that are made by regular people.

Newspapers at one time would receive Letters to the Editor in response to political columns and they would ordinarily not print those that were hateful and some wouldn’t print those that were simply embarrassing to the person writing them, but the Internet has no such editors. No, the beauty and the ugliness of the Internet is that you get the raw feed – whether it be pure, pristine and sweet or disgusting sewage. Often the worst ones are loaded with spelling and grammatical errors, which further deepens my depression; apparently our own citizens can’t be bothered to write in proper English which is to my understanding their native language.

But back to that kindness thing. We have become a nation of self-justifiers. Nobody shows me any courtesy, goes the reasoning, so why should I show it to anyone else? I will admit that this particular thought process has invaded my reasoning from time to time, particularly when I read some rude screed that violates my political sensibilities. Should I be nice to Conservatives who are blatantly acting like boobs? Or should I give back what they are dishing out? On too many occasions, the latter has won out.

It is far easier to be self-centered than it is not to be, or at least it appears that way on the surface. The truth is that it doesn’t really take much effort to be kind. Sometimes just stopping a moment to ask someone if they are all right is all it takes. Asking your wife if she wants something from the kitchen if you’re going there anyway really makes no additional drain on your time. Even going to the fridge if she remarks “Gee, I’m thirsty” although you had no plans to go yourself and get something can brighten up her day immeasurably. Acts of kindness make people feel like they matter. It is a powerful feeling indeed.

Acts of kindness also give you a sense of empowerment for that very same reason. You feel good about yourself, and good about who you are. You feel a sense of accomplishment by being kind – you’ve made someone’s day and that shouldn’t be underestimated. It can be a small thing – a gesture or a smile – or something more elaborate. It can be going out of your way to pick someone up from work, or spending the day helping them paint their house. It can be bringing over some chicken soup when they’re sick, or sitting up all night with them when they’re suffering.

I can understand the reluctance of some to be kind. After all, it happens often enough that acts of kindness are rewarded with indifference or even disdain. “No good deed goes unpunished” is sadly a truism far too often. Sometimes people get a little gun-shy about doing something nice for someone; so often it winds up biting us in the derrière.

Still, this kind of thing flies in the face of the philosophy we’re supposed to admire – that of Jesus Christ. You know, the whole turn the other cheek thing. It sounds easy enough when we’re talking about it in theory but a whole lot harder in practice. The point is, we’re supposed to do the right thing even when it isn’t the easy thing. Even when people take it for granted or worse, take advantage of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating we turn into schmucks and lie down like a piece of carpet for those who take your kindness and twist it to your advantage. By all means call them on their behavior and let the world know they’re schmuck-like behavior isn’t to be tolerated. And treat those people with wariness. Sure you’re supposed to turn the other cheek but nobody said anything about taking a beating.

Acts of kindness shouldn’t be an exception. They shouldn’t be an endangered species, a rarity so remarkable that we are astonished when they occur to us. The trouble is that we often miss the opportunities to show kindness because we’re too busy looking out for ourselves. Kindness doesn’t necessarily require you to go that far out of your way, although those acts are a special sort of kindness and get you a whole lot more karma points. However, kindness requires a commitment on your part to be kind and to live a life in which that is your modus operandi. It means setting aside your instincts which are for self-interest and see the world as a larger place, one in which acts of kindness are cumulative and multiply accordingly.

One act of kindness often leads to another, and then to another and so on. These things can take on a life of their own and reverberate throughout a multitude of lives. Send enough of those things spinning through the ether and who knows where it might lead. Maybe a kinder, gentler society. One built of kindness. I for one could do with that.


One Response

  1. That’s the right approach, Carlos. Acts of kindness are infectious,they spread.

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