“You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
KINDNESS. Is your outlook one of compassion or indifference? How often do you perform intentional acts of kindness? Are you a considerate person? Do you show love every day to those who love you?
With the calamities of recent times, we have witnessed ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of heroism. We revel in their humanity and feel good about our collective selves. After the crisis subsides, however, we often go back to our normal way of being which often is not so benevolent. A few years ago, a neighborhood acquaintance asked me why I was so nice. I found that to be an odd question. I would pass by in the morning and always say a cheery hello, and I guess she wasn’t used to it. I suppose in a society that can often be quite cynical, to offer a smile may seem like you’re being too personal (or maybe this is just a New York City phenomenon). People tend to walk around emotionless like the clones in the science fiction film, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or, their discontent with the world or themselves is written all over their faces or being splayed out in a string of inexcusable words. There are times – when I’m on the subway or approaching a group of rowdy young guys – that I even modify my facial expression and body language like the “real me” has been replaced. However, most of the time, I find sharing goodness is, well, a great thing!
Kindness comes from the Latin, “Humanitas” – a word created by the Roman philosopher Cicero to describe a good human. Defined as the act or the state of charitable behavior to other people, kindness is considered to be one of the Seven Virtues and is a valued characteristic in most religions and belief systems. It is fundamental to the ethic of reciprocity, or what is called “The Golden Rule” which simply means, “treat others as you would like to be treated.” In Christianity and Judaism, this concept is explained in Matthew and Leviticus in the Bible. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita both reference this moral principle in the law of karma. Compassion or “loving-kindness” is the basis of Buddhism and is one of its Ten Perfections. Kindness is the first of the three great treasures put forth by Lao Tzu in Taoism. Taking into account the diversity of cultural norms, modern philosopher Karl Popper refined the Golden Rule by saying “do unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by.”
If kindness is such a basic fruit of the Spirit, why are we sometimes surprised when we experience it? In our self-absorbed society, the ethic of reciprocity is often translated as quid pro quo; in other words, “you do something for me, I’ll do something for you.” Some may confuse this conditional generosity for kindness. The litmus test is asking yourself: “Would I do something for someone who will never repay me?” or “Would I be charitable even if it is not tax-deductible?” As Aristotle put it, true kindness is “helpfulness towards some one in need, not in return for anything, not for the advantage of the helper himself, but of that of the person helped.” It is an inclination to do good for others just because. It is also an attitude of non-judgment and forgiveness. The word kindness in Greek and Hebrew is often translated as “mercy” or “goodness”, and very often interchangeable with the word “love.” Kindness means showing love even to those who have been rude to you (as in Luke 6:27 – “Love your enemies…”). Remember… don’t wait for people to be friendly, show them how. This actually charges your own energy. As the Dalai Lama says: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Kindness is a universal principle and the Golden Rule is seen as the most essential basis for the concept of human rights. As Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” In 1993, the Parliament of the World’s Religions created the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” which proclaimed the Golden Rule as the common principle for many religions. The Declaration was reportedly signed by more than 200 leaders from over 40 different faith traditions and spiritual communities. That same year, there was a Congressional Resolution that resulted in the decision to make the week of February 12th of each year “Act of Kindness Awareness Week” for the United States. In 1997, the World Kindness Movement started with a conference in Tokyo which had representatives from Australia, Canada, Japan, Kingdom of Thailand, Republic of Singapore, the United Kingdom and (thank goodness) the United States. They pledged to form a global network to build a kinder and more compassionate world. Although it seems sad that we must have official declarations and resolutions to encourage people to be kind – at least it’s a start!
Love is the most powerful energy in the world and kindness is its companion. Every day find a way to show you care. Lead with compassion instead of judgment. Practice intentional acts of kindness. Make your partner a delicious breakfast like you may a special guest. Invest time in your child. Open the door for someone. Give up your seat on the train, even if you’re tired. Offer a genuine compliment to the cashier. Shine light on someone who seems down. At some point, when you really need an uplift, a kind word or smile will make your day. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Og Mandino: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”
Today, I exude kindness in my thoughts, words and actions.
Kindness is key to happiness. By spreading goodness, it comes back to me.
I lead with love in all my interactions. I offer goodwill to those I encounter.
There is always something I can give, starting with a smile.
Today, I exude kindness in my thoughts, words and actions.
Listen to the Affirmation:
Copyright Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy. Power Living® Column Vol. 69.08, originally published February 2008. Teresa Kennedy has written over 70 “The Power of…” columns that are a part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series and available for syndication. Call 212-901-6913 for more information.
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