Key Point: It is so easy be mean spirited. It requires little or no emotional muscle and therefore it is so handy for the weak to serve it up. And bullies master meanness. I’ve seen hate-filled behavior in every part of my life. When it becomes the norm in a culture, the experience is toxic and deeply damaging. Kindness, on the other hand, takes intentionality and emotional strength. It also involves generosity of spirit. When it becomes resident in a culture, the members thrive and even fly.
I was inspired to write this after attending a funeral. It was for the matriarch of a family in a wonderful farm community. I’m in the small town bar, post funeral, having a beer and reflecting as I write this. The town’s community hall was filled to the brim in celebration, as this 99-year-old woman’s life received appropriate tribute. This marvelous person was an exceptional mother, wife, grandmother, great-grandmother, seamstress, baker, community leader, and more, but the overarching theme of her life was kindness. She gave so much of it to caregivers in her nursing home during the last four years of life that the staff needed a quiet room to cry together upon her passing. The eulogies on her behalf inspired me to remind myself (and hopefully you) that one of our very reasons for living is to freely and generously offer kindness. Of course, to be genuinely kind, one has to have the strength to deeply care for others.
Five million people have read RJ Palacio’s book “Wonder.” It’s written for adolescents and (if you haven’t already), I encourage you to read it regardless of your age. August “Auggie” Pullman is a 10-year-old living in the fictional neighborhood of North River Heights in upper Manhattan. He has a rare facial deformity, which he refers to as “mandibulofacial dysostosis,” more commonly known as Treacher Collins syndrome and a cleft palate… As Auggie exclaims: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Due to numerous surgeries, Auggie had been home-schooled by his mother, and his parents decide to enroll him at Beecher Prep, a private school. As Auggie works at navigating school, his biggest nemesis is a character who barely conceals his disgust at Auggie’s appearance. He bullies Auggie and hates him for the way he looks. As Auggie struggles through the meanness and bullying, he sometimes wishes every day could be Halloween… “We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.” How many people around us at work and in other parts of our lives feel this way? What do you and I do to make a difference?
- At your eulogy, will one of the adjectives describing your life include kindness? (Not just the time you worked at United Way, or gave at the food bank). I’m talking about the everyday stuff from the moment you roll out of bed until you fall asleep. Every day has hundreds of moments inviting acts of kindness.
- When given the choice between being right, or being kind, do you choose kindness? Personally, I have work to do here. I do not need to “win” all the time even though my ego says I should.
- In the closing chapters of “Wonder,” the middle school principal addresses the student body at the end of school year’s awards ceremony. He introduces the challenge of “being kinder than necessary,” and concludes the event with a powerful quote by the 19th century abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher: “He/she is the greatest whose strength carries the most hearts by the attraction of his/her own.” How about getting emotionally buff through the strength of “more than necessary kindness?”
Kind strength in the Triangle,
PS… The following includes a link with great books about kindness. Reading them to children will be a little strength work for us too.
One Millennial View: I often discuss how nice and kind I find people in Los Angeles to be. This is surprising to some, because L.A. is stereotyped as a stuck up, shallow city. But people mostly smile here, they’re friendly and cheerful, and while some believe that’s just a fake front, it’s important to recognize that they’re choosing a positive demeanor over a negative one. I think this is because it’s easier to be kind. I’d argue that it takes more effort to be mean… Meanness also shows insecurity, and sends unappealing vibes… It’s just “not a good look.” As you also may have heard, in Los Angeles, a “look” is something people certainly do care about.
Edited and published by Garrett Rubis