The truck driver behind her, after witnessing the traffic lights pass through several cycles, finally decided to take action. He sauntered over to Aunt Tilly’s car, leaned his large frame toward her open window, and stated, in as restrained a manner as possible, “Would you be lookin’ for a different shade of green, ma’am?”
Kindness is being gentle, thoughtful, helpful, and forgiving at times when it would be so easy to be angry. It also displays the same virtues when the sheer inconvenience of the situation would seem to justify non-involvement. Kindness much prefers considerateness to anger, and leaps enthusiastically over the barriers of inconvenience. The kind person persists in behaving humanly no matter how irresistibly circumstances may tempt him to behave otherwise.
It is only too evident that Christians should be ambassadors of kindness. As St. Paul advises in Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
St. Peter offers similar advice: “So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Pt 2:1-3).
Kindness is the honey that dulls the sting of unkindness when we receive it from another. A kind word can conquer anger, calm the spirit, and even start a friendship.
Christians should be kind. But kindness is not exclusively Christian. Rather it is as broad and old as humanity. The Greek playwright Sophocles alluded to the naturalness of kindness when he said, “Kindness gives birth to kindness.” The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius understood the personal as well as the social benefits of kindness. “Ask thyself daily,” he wrote, “to how many ill-minded persons thou hast shown a kind disposition.” Goethe viewed kindness as the “golden chain by which society is bound together.” The fact that the word kindness is derived from the Old English gecynde, meaning natural, is a good indication that kindness is a very natural virtue. Shakespeare’s immortal and oft-quoted phrase, “the milk of human kindness” (Macbeth, act 1, scene 5), also attests to the naturalness of kindness, especially with regard to its manner of nourishment.
In the contemporary world, we commonly hear reference to “random acts of kindness.” The expression was coined, presumably, to counteract “random acts of violence.” Nonetheless, acts of kindness are not fully themselves if they are random and impersonal. They should be well-placed and personal. “How truly is a kind heart a fountain of gladness,” wrote Washington Irving, “making everything in its vicinity to freshen into smiles.” No other virtue is better identified with the heart. Kindness and kindheartedness are synonymous, as are kind and kindhearted.
Small acts of watchful kindness are seldom performed in vain. And they have a marvelous proclivity for engendering successive acts of kindness. Moreover, kindness is versatile in its manner of expression. The kind look, gesture, or word can be as beneficial as the kind deed.
The expressions of kindness may be simple and undramatic. The results, however, can be decisive and most dramatic. The following story has circulated through the newsprint media. A young man, named Mark, was trying to negotiate his way home one day with his arms full of paraphernalia he had just taken from his high school locker. The inevitable happened. He tripped. Suddenly his precious cargo was no longer in his arms but scattered on the sidewalk. A Good Samaritan bystander, a student from the same high school, stopped and helped his distraught neighbor. A small act of kindness, undramatic and unpretentious. A conversation ensued and, before very long, a friendship developed.
When the time was ripe, Mark explained to his new friend that the reason he cleaned out his locker was because he did not want to leave a mess behind for someone else. He had saved up enough of his mother’s sleeping pills to put himself to sleep permanently. He was going home to kill himself when an act of unexpected kindness gave his plans and his life a new direction. Kindness, truly, can save lives.
In success we see a silhouette,
The outline of an unknown story;
But kindness is a coronet
That holds the heart in glory.
Dr. DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ontario. He is the author of The Many Faces of Virtue and The Heart of Virtue
This article originally appeared in Lay Witness, a publication of Catholics United for the Faith, Inc., and is used by permission. Join Catholics United for the Faith and enjoy the many benefits of membership.