A few things have happened lately to reminded me of the importance of kindness. I’ve been the recipient of great generosity recently – in both small and large ways. And as moving as the grand gestures are (and as grateful as I am for them), the little things are what have provoked the biggest emotional response from me. It’s always been a bit confusing to me why doing something so small, however thoughtful, for someone else can be so important. In trying to unravel the mystery, I’ve discovered a few things, and I’ll try to share it with as much clarity as I can muster.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” -Mark Twain
Our lives are filled with big things. We’ve all got problems, worries, challenges, and priorities that can loom huge in our lives. It’s like the moment in a theater when someone passes close in front of a projector and blocks out the entire movie for a moment. Though that one person is much smaller than the screen, they come so close that their shadow blocks everything else out. Whatever beauty, excitement, love, or happiness might be taking place on screen, all we can see is a shadow. I think that’s how our lives are sometimes. Life is so full of beauty, complexity, and abundance, but that’s easy to forget when we’ve got a big problem that covers life in it’s shadow. I’m not saying these shadows are unique or even that we have to get rid of them. We all have our own shadows, some bigger than others, and it would be impossible to banish them completely. I don’t want a life without shadows. All I ask for is the ability to see around them. Doing little things for others, taking a few minutes to write someone a nice message, doing a small favor, smiling genuinely at someone you pass on the street, can really change someone’s day. I think these little gifts mean so much because they require us to focus our attention away from ourselves and the shadows we follow for a few moments. The require us to heft up the corners of those shadows, struggle under their weight, and glimpse, for once, the potential beauty, caring, and unity that waits for us in a life undarkened. We have to focus on the need of another instead of the needs of ourselves. When someone is able to do that for us, it’s wonderfully touching. It means that they put down their own cares for a moment and thought of us. It’s a beautiful feeling.
“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” -Leo Buscaglia
While putting your personal shadows aside for a moment to attend to the needs of the person in front of you might take a little extra emotional work, I think it’s worth it. Actually, I think it’s one of the greatest kept secrets in the world. It takes intentional effort to put your personal problems aside, but once you do, you’ll get the chance to be in on the secret. The secret is that once you’re finished being generous with your emotions and time, once you’ve parted from the other person and returned your attention to your shadows, you’ll find that they aren’t as dark as they were before you put them aside.
“A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.” -Chinese proverb
If my travels have taught me anything, it’s that everyone carries their own cross. You never know what storm other people are going through, so it’s always in your best interest to be unnecessarily kind. If we could all realize that shadows are universal, then maybe we could all decide to put them aside for a while and allow ourselves to connect with each other at our most pure. We could give and give and give of ourselves to others without feeling like we wouldn’t have enough left to deal with our own troubles. I don’t believe that those who give the most are also those who receive the most. I truly believe that giving IS receiving. Somewhere along the way we got lost. We started believing that there was only so much time and love and joy in the world so we had to grab it quick for ourselves before it ran out instead of spreading it around. We started believing that our shadows were so huge and all-consuming that we couldn’t spare even a second to tend to the small, daily needs of others. We couldn’t be more wrong. Scarcity is something lazy people made up as an excuse not to listen with an open heart, give freely of your time, and make small efforts. The more you give, the more you have, not the other way around.
“Kindness is loving people more than they deserve.” -Joseph Joubert
Say you’re having a really crappy day. Maybe your boss yelled at you or you flunked an exam or you just stepped in a puddle and discovered your rain boot has a hole. You’re in a really terrible mood when you walk into a coffee shop to get a pick-me-up. Instead of glowering at the menu, being short with the barista, and shlumping over to the corner table to nurse your wounds, pay for the drink of the customer in line behind you. Once you start turning those little dark moments into opportunities to spread light, you’ll discover a well of optimism inside yourself that you never knew existed.
So let’s start a new trend, you and me. Be more kind than you have to. Smile more than is really normal. Give of yourself. Then give more. I could say you’d be doing the world a favor, and while that might be true, you’ll also be doing yourself a big favor.