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LEARNING TO BE KIND

August 12, 2018

Henry James was an American author considered by many to be among the greatest novelists in the English language. He was the brother of renowned philosopher and psychologist William James. Once when Henry James was concluding a visit with his young nephew Billy, his brother William’s son, he offered advice that the young man never forgot. “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

Most of us would agree that recently, kindness is a virtue that has been in short supply in many quarters of our American life. Most of us would also agree that kindness is a key to getting along with other people. From early childhood, we are taught to be kind to others.  Conscientious adults, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and leaders have impressed upon us the importance of simple kindness.

Kindness begins at home. This is a lesson that I had the opportunity to teach two of my grandchildren this very day. One concrete expression of kindness is sharing. This includes taking turns swinging in a hammock or sharing a favorite toy with a brother or a sister. At an adult level, how much more is human kindness expressed when we share food or clothing or a drink of cold water!

Kindness is homegrown. Children learn to be kind as they learn many other things –by example.

Several years ago, on the fourth floor of the Heart Center at Spartanburg Regional Hospital, I saw on the door of the Managing Nurse’s office, a sign that read “Kindness is power.” There’s something incongruous about that statement. Kindness is often associated with gentleness, as, for example, in the expression, “a kinder, gentler nation.” or in a list of virtues where kindness and gentleness are listed along with love, joy, peace, goodness, meekness, and other fruits of the Spirit. Rarely do we think of kindness as having anything to do with power.

The explicit purpose of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is the promotion of kind deeds. The foundation has a website that lists inspirational stories detailing how spontaneous acts of kindness have made a difference in the lives of individuals. A quote from Leo Buscaglia, former Professor at the University of Southern California and renowned author, affirms this concept. “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” This brings to mind a Bible verse, “Be kind, one to another.”

Charles Kuralt, in his book, On the Road With Charles Kuralt, wrote, “The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” The week of St. Valentine’s Day, February 13 through 19, has been designated as National Random Acts of Kindness Week. We can make a difference in this world if we are open to dispensing kindness.

William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, said, “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

One of my favorite examples of a random act of kindness involves William D. Boyce, a millionaire publisher from Chicago. In 1909, he traveled to Africa for a hunting safari. On his return trip, he stopped in London for a business appointment. He was walking through the streets on an afternoon when all of London was enshrouded in thick fog. Mr. Boyce was hopelessly lost.

Just then, a twelve-year-old boy carrying a lantern stepped out of the gloom. He asked the American publisher if he needed help. Boyce told him where he was to meet his appointment and the boy led him there. When they arrived, W. D. Boyce offered the boy a shilling as a tip. The young man refused, “No, thank you, sir. I am a scout.” Boyce asked, “A scout? What might that be?” The boy explained to the American about the new scouting movement. Boyce became very interested and asked if the boy could stay a moment to tell him more.

After the business meeting, the scout led W. D. Boyce to the British Scouting office. Lt. General Robert Baden-Powell, who was at the office, welcomed Mr. Boyce. The scout disappeared into the London fog. In the ensuing conversation, Lord Baden-Powell and William Boyce decided to make an effort to expand scouting to America. Baden-Powell filled a trunk with scout handbooks, uniforms, and other scouting paraphernalia. Upon his return to Chicago, William Boyce pursued his goal.  On February 8, 1910, the Congress of the United States granted a charter to the Boy Scouts of America.

What happened to the boy who helped Mr. Boyce find his way through the fog of London? No one knows. He refused the money, and he did not give his name, but he will never be forgotten. In the British Scout Training Center at Gilwell Park, England, scouts from the United States erected a statue of an American bison in honor of the Unknown Scout.

Because of one random act of kindness by an English boy, more than 100 million American youth have been a part of scouting. The slogan of the Boy Scouts of America is a reminder that opportunities for acts of kindness are available every day, “Do a good turn daily.” Scouts pledge, “To help other people at all times.” The sixth point of the Scout Law is A Scout is kind. A Scout understands there is strength in being gentle. A Scout follows the Golden Rule, treating others as she/he wants to be treated.

Kindness is power!

Last week I received an e-mail from friends who reside near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They were concerned about “toxic behaviors and language being expressed in public meetings” in their neighborhood. They wanted me to suggest a clear, concise motto that would encourage people to be kind to each other; a few words that could be stamped on badges or screen printed on tee shirts.

I spent some time thinking about this request for words that would promote kindness. Of course, passages of scripture came to mind.

 

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”

(Ephesians 4:32)

He has showed you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Kindness does not have a holier-than-thou attitude. Kindness is expressing empathy and understanding for where other people are in their life’s journey.  Kindness is accepting other people without trying to change them. Kindness is helping someone out; not to make ourselves look good, but out of genuine compassion for a fellow human being.

After thinking and praying about the request from our friends in North Carolina, I came up with a simple phrase. They thought it appropriate for their situation. I later posted it on Facebook. I can imagine these words emblazoned on a tee shirt.

KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS.

CATCH IT!  SPREAD IT!

And then I remembered the lyrics of an old Glenn Campbell song.

Let me be a little kinder

Let me be a little blinder

To the faults of those about me

Let me praise a little more

Let me be when I am weary

Just a little bit more cheery

Think a little more of others

And a little less of me.

 

Let me be a little braver

When temptation bids me waver

Let me strive a little harder

To be all that I should be

Let me be a little meeker

With the brother that is weaker

Let me think more of my neighbor

And a little less of me.

 

Let me be when I am weary

Just a little bit more cheery

Let me serve a little better

Those that I am strivin’ for

Let me be a little meeker

With the brother that is weaker

Think a little more of others

And a little less of me.

 

Here is a link to the song.

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